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NYCLU Slams Policy That Targeted RNC Protesters

In the wake of new revelations at a City Council committee hearing, the New York Civil Liberties Union sharply criticized the NYPD for adopting a special policy of routinely fingerprinting protesters arrested during the Republican National Convention. A high-ranking police official told the Council the fingerprinting took place because of fears of threats by terrorists or anarchists.

“The NYCLU is outraged that the NYPD would pointedly violate the law in the name of national security,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “Once again, the police department has failed to distinguish between lawful protest and criminal activity.”

New York Newsday reported on the appearance of Deputy Chief John Colgan before the Council’s Government Operations committee yesterday. Colgan, who runs the department’s counterterrorism bureau, also supervised the RNC arrest process. Newsday reported Colgan said the convention was a “national security event,” and he implemented a special policy to fingerprint virtually everyone arrested at the RNC demonstrations.

“It had been preceded by substantial intelligence involving terrorist threats and the escalating plans of anarchist groups to disrupt the city of New York,” said Colgan as reported by Newsday. Also as reported, he refused to tell the committee whether any of the 1,800 arrested were more than ordinary protesters and did not comment on the overwhelming peaceful nature of the protests.

“The context we’re now operating here in New York City is that protesters are terrorist threats, protesters are anarchists, protesters are the enemy,” said Christopher Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the NYCLU who testified before the committee. Dunn noted in Newsday that police brass is unwilling to acknowledge they did anything out of the ordinary during the RNC.

The NYCLU will present the facts of such unlawful behavior by the NYPD in the two lawsuits it has filed against the City challenging police practices during the RNC. 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.

The NYCLU has since secured an agreement from the City to expunge or destroy fingerprints taken from protesters who were arrested during the RNC for minor offenses. And the Manhattan District Attorney’s office also has dismissed criminal charges against 227 people arrested at a lawful protest at the World Trade Center site August 31st while beginning a procession to the Convention at Madison Square Garden.

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