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Fingerprints Of RNC-Protesters To Be Destroyed

The New York Civil Liberties Union has secured an agreement from New York City that it would begin today to expunge or destroy fingerprints gathered from protesters arrested for minor offenses during last summer’s Republican National Convention. Despite published reports, the City had not expunged or destroyed fingerprints of protesters arrested during the RNC and that expunging effort is underway today. The actions come two weeks after the NYCLU filed lawsuits challenging routine fingerprinting of protesters as well as other practices by the NYPD. The agreement is part of an ongoing negotiation between the NYCLU and City to change police practices against protesters that were employed during the RNC.

“The NYCLU welcomes this move by the City to right an unjustifiable wrong,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “By state law, people arrested for minor offenses should never be subjected to routine fingerprinting. Certainly, it should not be a routine outcome for those who are arrested after they engage in political protest.”

Under New York law, the police may take the fingerprints of those charged with violations – such as disorderly conduct – only if (1) the police are unable to ascertain the person’s identity, (2) the police reasonably suspect that the identification given by the person is not accurate, or (3) the police reasonably suspect the person is being sought by law enforcement for the commission of some other offense.

The NYPD reportedly arrested nearly 1,500 people during the Convention for minor offenses, like disorderly conduct, known as “violations.” During the Convention, however, numerous reports indicate that the NYPD systematically fingerprinted everyone, regardless of whether the person had valid identification and without any reason to believe the person might have been sought by law enforcement.

The City also has informed the NYCLU that neither New York State (Albany) nor the FBI retains fingerprints supplied to them by the NYPD as part of an identification inquiry of a person charged with a violation.

“We remain concerned about whether any fingerprints remain in the possession of Albany or the FBI,” said Christopher Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the NYCLU. “However, the agreement we’ve reached with the City on this matter is a good first step and we will continue to press the City to halt the practice of fingerprinting demonstrators charged with minor offenses.”

The NYCLU continues its efforts to change police practices employed against protesters and innocent bystanders during the RNC in its two lawsuits filed October 7, 2004. The lawsuits specifically challenge the indiscriminate, mass arrests of people – protesters, observers, and bystanders — who had assembled peacefully and lawfully on public sidewalks; their unjustified and unexplained lengthy detentions in a filthy bus depot (Pier 57); and the systematic fingerprinting of people arrested for minor offenses. The cases, the first filed since the RNC, seek court orders that these practices are unlawful so that they are not used at future demonstrations in New York City.

In addition to NYCLU efforts to right the wrongs resulting from certain police practices during the RNC, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office agreed to dismiss the criminal prosecutions of 227 people arrested on August 31st at a War Resistors League demonstration during the RNC near the World Trade Center. That action followed meetings between D.A. Robert Morgenthau’s office and the NYCLU during which the organization brought videotape to the D.A.’s attention that depicted the unlawful arrest of these protesters.

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