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NYCLU Questions NYPD “Bait and Switch” Negotiations With Peaceful Protesters

The New York Civil Liberties Union is concerned about the NYPD’s efforts to shut down peaceful protest after demonstrators have negotiated in good faith to express themselves. The mass arrest of protesters tonight at the World Trade Center is a clear example of a “bait and switch operation” by the NYPD. They misled marchers into believing they would be allowed to march on the sidewalk, and then arrested them indiscriminately after they began to march.
“This example of zero tolerance for peaceful protest is unacceptable,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “Such action by the NYPD effectively stifles political debate at a time and occasion when people most want their voices heard.”

Several organizations, including the War Resistors League and the School of the Americas Watch, led a gathering of about one thousand people at the World Trade Center site Tuesday afternoon. The groups did not have a permit to march, but negotiated an agreement with the NYPD to walk from the WTC site to Union Square Park and ultimately on to Madison Square Garden. Police then directed the marchers to line up and walk on the sidewalk, following an agreed-upon route.

The protesters had gone no more than half a block when suddenly police stopped the march, corralled everyone on the sidewalk on Fulton Street into mesh netting, and arrested all those who were hemmed in for no apparent reason. There had been no order to disperse. Among those arrested were at least one journalist and four legal observers.

Bill Perkins, Deputy Majority Leader of New York’s City Council, who took an active role in the negotiations with police, expressed shock at the police action he witnessed.

“This appeared to be a set-up,” said Perkins. “They told the marchers they had an agreement and the police would escort them. They said, ‘stay close together, we’re going to march two-by-two and let’s have a good march.’ Ending the demonstration abruptly and arresting people engaging in lawful protest is wrong and mean spirited.”

The NYCLU is calling on the police to honor its word. The Police Commissioner Raymond Kelley has stated publicly that police will respect the rights of protesters as long as they are peaceful. The commissioner must immediately back up those words by making it clear to his officers on the street that protesters First Amendment rights must not be stifled.

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