NY City Pays Activists $469k
February 7, 2002
City Pays Activists $469k In "Punishment Of Dissent" Lawsuit
Days after detaining WEF protesters & journalists, City pays for violating first amendment.
New York City – City lawyers today agreed to pay approximately $469,000 in damages and legal costs to activists arrested in a 1999 Diallo-related protest. The twelve activists were jailed for over 24 hours – a common experience for dissenters under the Giuliani administration – instead of receiving summonses in accordance with NYPD practice for non-political arrests.
The lawsuit alleged that the City targeted political protesters for punishment by imposing pre-trial jail time for charges that carry no jail sentence. Social justice organizers believe that as many as 800 such detentions of protesters may have occurred between 1999 and 2001, and that each instance was illegal and violated First Amendment rights.
“The City blatantly targeted demonstrators who criticized Giuliani or the NYPD,” said Mary Elizebeth Bartholomew, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and an attorney in the Brehon Law Society. “On that day, we stood as Irish-Americans protesting racism in the NYPD, drawing parallels between policing in New York City and brutal, racist policing in the North of Ireland which targets Irish Catholics. Today we stand with the multitudes of poor people, youth, people of color, people with AIDS, queers and immigrants who were targeted for silencing by the Giuliani administration.”
“When we started hearing about protesters being jailed overnight in 1998, it added to a laundry list of Giuliani anti-speech practices which included slapping protesters with excessive charges, halting demonstrations in mid-stream, and arresting organizers in the middle of a protest to create chaos,” said Emmaia Gelman, a plaintiff and a member of Irish Queers. “Overnight detention was a weapon in a very obvious war on dissent.”
The written order to jail protesters was uncovered last May by the New York Civil Liberties Union in a separate lawsuit. Previously, it was apparently hidden even from City lawyers. Rather than defend the policy, the City rescinded it in July 2001.
In today's settlement, the City agreed never to reinstate the policy. However, the settlement comes just days after the NYPD similarly detained demonstrators and independent journalists arrested at the World Economic Forum, leaving questions about a continuation of the illegal NYPD practice.