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Letter to Mayor Bloomberg To Take Stand On Mass Arrests At Republican National Convention

March 11, 2004

Michael R. Bloomberg
City of New York

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:

We write in response to reports earlier this week that the Police Department has notified the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to prepare for 1,000 arrests per day during the upcoming Republican National Convention. We are deeply alarmed by what these reports suggest about the NYPD’s approach to demonstrations at the Convention and write to request that you take steps to assure that the right to protest at this national event will not be improperly chilled by inappropriate Police Department actions.

The NYCLU represents many groups seeking to engage in protest activity during the Convention. As is true with virtually all groups holding demonstrations in New York City, these groups are seeking to hold lawful events with appropriate permits.

The events being scheduled by these and other groups are likely to draw large numbers of demonstrators who wish to have their voices heard in the streets of Manhattan. Organizers expect these protests to be attended by people from all walks of life: New York City residents and out-of-towners, parents and children, the able-bodied and disabled, the young and the old. And as is evident from the countless large demonstrations that have taken place in New York City for decades, there is every reason to believe that these demonstrations will be peaceful and orderly.

We know from extensive experience, however, that advance statements from the Police Department can change the entire tenor of an event. If the Department chooses to highlight potential disorder and conflict with police officers, law-abiding organizations are intimidated, and many people of good will become fearful of attending the event. (We are confident, for instance, that you yourself have friends and acquaintances who might well attend a peaceful Convention demonstration but who would be deterred from doing so by Police Department predictions of mass arrests.) Moreover, hostile statements from high-level officials about an event convey to officers who actually police the event an attitude that produces excessive and unnecessary conflict.

The impact of the Department’s approach towards an event is perhaps best exemplified by the two large anti-war events that took place last year on February 15 and March 22. These huge events were organized by the same group and attended by many of the same people. As a result of hostile actions by the NYPD, the February 15 event was marred by many serious problems. By sharp contrast, the NYPD approached the March 22 event with a fundamentally different and more cooperative attitude, and that event was a huge success and occurred virtually without problem.

We therefore are deeply disturbed by the reports this week about Police Department statements expecting 1,000 arrests per day during convention protests. Given the long history of peaceful protest in this city, suggestions of this sort seem irresponsible and do nothing more than create a wholly unnecessary atmosphere of tension surrounding Convention protests.

We recognize that some small number of persons participating in Convention protests may engage in civil disobedience or even commit more serious offenses. And the police of course should take measured and appropriate action against such persons. However, the NYPD cannot be permitted to use the actions of a few to serve as a justification for a broad crackdown on the large-scale peaceful and lawful protest activity scheduled to take place during the Convention.

In light of the importance of creating a positive atmosphere around protest activity at the Convention and of doing so now, we once again urge you to become personally involved in this matter. We were disappointed in the response we received from Deputy Mayor Carol Robles-Roman to our earlier letter to you about the Convention, but we hope that this week’s developments will spur you to take a more active role in the City’s approach to Convention demonstrations.

Once again, we ask to meet with you and other appropriate City officials at your earliest convenience to discuss these matters.


Christopher Dunn
Associate Legal Director

Donna Lieberman
Executive Director

Arthur Eisenberg
Legal Director

c: NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly
Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo

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