Report: NYPD broke international law with OWS brutality
July 25, 2012
A report by a group of civil and human rights attorneys released Wednesday morning paints the clearest picture yet of the New York City police department’s aggressive tactics and over-policing, all of which resulted in the systemic suppression of the basic rights of Occupy protesters.
The report, which chronicles events from late September 2011 up to July of 2012, extensively documents numerous ways in which the NYPD acted with excessive force, attempted to intimidate and harass members of the press, expelled activists from public space due to the content of their speech, and ultimately concludes that authorities broke international law in their handling of Occupy Wall Street.
The executive summary states, in plain language:
“The abusive practices documented in this report violate international law and suppress and chill protest rights, not only by undermining individual liberty, but also by causing both minor and serious physical injuries, inhibiting collective debate and the capacity to effectively press for social and economic change, and making people afraid to attend otherwise peaceful assemblies.”
The authors of the report make several recommendations. First, they call for the city to enact a new, public protest policy, to be created in coordination with civil rights groups like the ACLU. Second, that Mayor Bloomberg establish an independent review of the policing of Occupy Wall Street since September 2011. Third, that New York State create an independent inspector-general to oversee the NYPD, and, if the state fails to do that, the report calls for the U.S. Department of Justice to step in to investigate the NYPD.
“The report calls for investigations and prosecutions of officials, and for new protest policing guidelines that ensure the NYPD respects core civil liberties and human rights,” said Sarah Knuckey, Adjunct Professor of Clinical Law and Research Director of Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University School of Law, one of the report’s main authors. “If these things are not done, the U.S. Department of Justice needs to step in and investigate official misconduct, and bring charges where appropriate.”
The authors have filed the report – which focuses primarily on New York City, though subsequent reports will focus on other cities – with the DOJ, as well as with the United Nations as a formal complaint. They have also submitted it to the mayor’s office, the NYPD, and the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB).
Many involved with Occupy will be familiar with much that’s in the report, but its sheer scope makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. And for international authorities who may be less well-acquainted with the less covered – though equally important – aspects of police repression, the report will likely prove a valuable tool.
“[This report] should serve as a wake-up call to the sleepwalkers who have not yet realized that the serious problems with the way New York City has been exercising its police powers are a real public health emergency that we have to deal with head-on and collectively, in a comprehensive and sustained way,” Gideon Oliver, president of the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, told AlterNet.
Most shocking is the section titled “use of force”, and the accompanying 36-page table that documents 130 incidents of violence police committed against Occupy activists. The list of incidents by its very nature couldn’t be exhaustive, but is intended to show the wide range of force police used against activists. Some of the incidents are quite serious; punching, over-hand swinging of batons, and “intentionally applying very hard force to the broken clavicle of a handcuffed and compliant individual.” Reading through the table leaves one with a dizzying sense of brutality, as ten months of condensed violence flash before one’s eyes.
When a government undermines liberty and democracy, it lowers itself to the brutalization of autocratic governments, akin to those who exercise violence and extreme repression rather than respect the rights of human beings. Such examples are countries like Libya, Syria, Egypt and many other undemocratic societies.