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Court Ruling Halts Restrictive NYPD Practices In Anticipation Of Republican National Convention

In a case brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union, a Manhattan Federal Court today released an order blocking the NYPD from using certain tactics at large demonstrations expected to take place at the Republican National Convention. In a 78-page decision, District Court Judge Robert Sweet ruled that the NYPD cannot close streets and sidewalks leading to demonstration sites without informing the public about alternate ways to get to the demonstrations. Judge Sweet also ruled the NYPD cannot use “pens” made of interlocking metal barricades at demonstrations without assuring that demonstrators can reasonably get in and out of them. And the judge’s decision said the NYPD cannot conduct generalized searches of the bags of people seeking to enter demonstration sites.

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said, “With this victory, the NYCLU and other groups now will be able to hold lawful demonstrations without fear of overly restrictive police practices. Judge Sweet has struck a reasonable balance between the First Amendment and concerns about safety, and we believe his ruling will lead to better and safer demonstrations in New York City.”

“In the context of the tumult over demonstrations at the Republican National Convention, this is an historic victory for the right to protest,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, who tried the case. “This ruling blocks practices that have severely restricted the right to protest lawfully while leaving intact NYPD actions that we recognize are appropriate to preserve safety and public order. Judge Sweet’s decision is good for the First Amendment and good for New York City.”

Judge Sweet’s ruling came after a hearing in June when numerous protesters and protest groups testified about problems caused by the NYPD use of barricades to limit access to demonstrations, use of “pens” to confine crowds at demonstrations, searches of the bags of people seeking to attend demonstrations, and use of mounted officers to disperse crowds. (On this last point, the judge ruled that for technical reasons, the NYCLU could not pursue its challenge to the Mounted Unit.)

NYPD Chief of Department Joseph Esposito testified at the hearing that the relief sought by the plaintiffs about the restrictions on access, use of pens, and use of the Mounted Unit would not undermine the City’s law-enforcement or terrorism concerns.

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