peaceably to assemble, part 2

Yesterday, I mentioned some proof that the NYPD spent a good portion of the Republican National Convention trampling on First Amendment rights. Longtime reader Peter, a Canadian, noted:
And what this story doesn't talk about is what happened to the police officer who registered the complaint against the individual. I don't know about in the states, but in Canada making a false statement in a criminal court is a very serious crime. Especially when done by an officer of the peace.
It's a serious crime here, too - or should be. If I recall correctly, "bearing false witness" is included in a certain dectet of "thou shalt not"s, which I mention only to emphasize that, historically, this has always been considered a big no-no.

In today's Times, reader reaction:
To the Editor:

Re "Videos Challenge Hundreds of Convention Arrests" (front page, April 12):

You report about shocking misconduct in connection with some of the 1,806 arrests made during the Republican National Convention last summer involving the alteration of police tapes.

Charges against hundreds of those arrested were dismissed when unaltered videotapes came to light, but the matter cannot be allowed to rest there.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg should appoint a task force to investigate the misconduct and to prepare a public report recommending reform of police procedures and calling those responsible for the abuses to account.

A police spokesman says officers should not be criticized if their recollection of events does not comport with a videotape.

If a person does not have an accurate recollection of events, he has no business testifying under oath in court in a criminal proceeding that may result in a citizen's loss of liberty.

Marilyn M. Jerry
Princeton, N.J., April 12, 2005


To the Editor:

What is truly disturbing about the prosecutions after last summer's Republican National Convention and the alteration of police tapes is that the matter is no longer about allegations of misconduct but about retribution against people who turned out to express opinions opposed to those of the Republicans.

This is the political nightmare we fear the most.

Joseph Keiffer
New York, April 12, 2005


To the Editor:

Police officers who offer false testimony about arrests, technicians who alter videos, and prosecutors who offer untrue evidence in court should be prosecuted.

But their misconduct pales in comparison with the systemic misconduct of the New York City government during the Republican convention last year.

The suppression of dissent has become commonplace, and it is an outrage. We need to ensure that freedom is more than a slogan.

Jacob Remes
Durham, N.C., April 12, 2005


To the Editor:

While we should be thankful that the technology exists for the common citizen now to more easily protect himself from the repressive tactics of the state (which we so readily allow to abrogate our rights under the guise of homeland security), what legal action can we expect Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to take against the police, who were so quick to deny the right of assembly?

Will we soon begin mass arrests of anyone with a video camera at any public gathering?

Or should we expect technology to allow the police to disable video cameras at their whim, again under the guise of homeland security?

Tony Alfrey
Woodside, Calif., April 12, 2005


To the Editor:

Dropping the charges against many of the protesters is but the first step in the more thorough moral reckoning that awaits us.

Your article underscores the yawning chasm between what we as a country are telling ourselves about our role as an ambassador of democracy and the chilling reality of America's role in the world: invading sovereign countries, deporting Muslims to be tortured abroad, and domestically, penning dissenting citizens.

(Rev.) Tom Martinez
Brooklyn, April 12, 2005


To the Editor:

For those of us who have for decades demonstrated peacefully in New York City for progressive causes, revelations of police hyperbole are nothing new.

For future demonstrations, I encourage The New York Times and other media to pick up a video camera and rely less on "he said, she said" reportage.

Daniel Katz
New York, April 12, 2005
This is a lot of letters on one topic, which means the Times received a flood of mail - and all from the same point of view. We need to push for an investigation, and a thorough rethinking of policy towards peaceful protesters. Singling out one or two officers for punishment - however deserved - won't change anything. Clearly such widespread abuse speaks to directives coming from much higher up.


allan said...

Remember one of Rumsfeld's first comments when the pictures of tortute at Abu Ghraib were made public? ... after he claimed the stories were news to him, even after they had been reported in the media?

He wanted to forbid soliders from carrying cameras and camera-phones.

That was his solution to the problem of torture and rape of prisoners. ... Thos pesky cameras!

Anonymous said...

Funny how some things never change.

Years back I was in Seattle for the WTC protest that was peaceably in hand until the boys in blue showed up. I tell you this: riot gear is not a caution measure for their personal protection, as they claim. They wear it solely because they fully plan to use it. And boy did they ever. Being from Canada, I was naive enough at the time to assume people wouldn't get thunked in the head for chanting nonoffensive rhyming slogans. Learned that lesson fast. Always thought the home video footage should be spliced with Radiohead's "Stop Whispering". Would have made a great music video.

Lucky for me I was not too naive that I didn't come prepped in case things did get out of hand. Buddy and I changed into suits we'd brought just for such an occasion, and were actually escorted very kindly out of the mess unharmed by those same people who were there to thunk us and everyone else there. Exploitation of police mentality at its best. If the guy is dressed like the Salvation Army, he's a hippy and must be beaten. If he's wearing a suit, he must be on the corporate side and treated with respect. Funny thing is they couldn't figure out why we kept laughing in the cop car on the way back to the hotel.

What's most amazing about the whole deal, and shows the progression of the media since (and it has actually progressed) is the coverage. Do you remember CNN or any other major news covering the event? If you don't, fret not, because they didn't!!! No "Battle In Seattle" graphics or anything. Some print in the US covered it, but very little. Some talk radio shows mentioned it, but very few. It was independent media that broke the story and covered its first few days, media that was mostly online (such as The Drudge Report). Only after this received much attention did the corporate media hub of the US get around to covering what was happening. At least now, in NY, the news media made an attempt to broadcast something, and print did a decent job of it - especially by allowing the letters and in the op-ed. Funny - Canadian coverage of Seattle was phenomenal ... especially the CBC ... strange that you guys have sometimes had to come to us to get the news ... makes our case for public broadcasting in the US (a la the CBC) even stronger.

laura k said...

There was quite a bit of US coverage of the Seattle protests - but it all focused on the "wild" protestors and the cops "justified" reaction. The usual, ahem, fair and balanced reportage.

We always say that in a sea of protestors of average-looking Americans of all ages, backgrounds and modes of dress, the TV media picks out the one guy with purple hair and a dozen piercings, and with any luck, he's throwing something. Then they run that footage ad nauseum.

Then there's the other tactic, as you mention, of completely ignoring it. February 20, 2003, largest global anti-war demonstration in history, CNN can't squeeze it in between celebrity trials. It's depressing.

But you know, we've got to be out there anyway. You know what Gandhi said about insignficance.

Rognar said...

I feel I have to stand up for the police here. No question, they sometimes go over the line, but they have a far more difficult job to do than the protestors. The protestors just have to protest. They are responsible for no one, but themselves. The police have to protect themselves, the delegates to these various conferences, the public and yes, even the protestors. It's a difficult balancing act and the various anti-everything groups have shown time and again that they cannot control their lunatic fringe.

laura k said...

It may seem more this way to a Canadian - and with good reason, because it may be more like that in Canada. But too many American cops are little more than paid thugs, sent out to incite riot and bust some heads. I've seen it so many times.

Not all cops are like this, of course. I don't mean to paint an entire profession with one brush. I've been to protests where I truly felt the cops were there to protect me - at some pro-choice rallies, for example, where the other side can be angry and violent.

But in Seattle and other WTO protests, the cops were there specifically to harass, injure and arrest protestors.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I've got to back up L-girl on this one, Rob ... I was there, dude. No questions were asked of anyone - they just showed up and started screamng at everyone to get out of there, and grabbing people at random to toss them around as examples of "what will be done to you if you don't all leave" - actual quote. [which is about the time buddy and I slipped into our Armani gear].

Point is, whether or not we have a right to peaceably assemble matters not to those we assemble against. The same powers-that-be who uphold citizens' rights when convenient are the same people who all-too-easily forget those very rights when they get in the way. So, hired thugs in blue it is.

Nobody there had any problem with the police showing up. Nobody I saw or heard of threw bricks at them when they did. We expected their presence; and all was good. Then some protesters started yelling at some guys in suits assumed to be part of WTO, the cops decided that didn't count as peaceable, and heads started getting thunked. Do that because one guy is being loud, but still nonviolent? Come on ... they were just sitting there looking for an excuse.

And yes, coverage was there ... but not from day 1 ... and not until after independent media picked it up. The networks covered it solely because they saw its popularity on independent media and had to stifle news competition - lest people turn away from the movie reel that is network news!

laura k said...

I'm sure you're right about the mainstream news. I wasn't defending them so much as pointing out the consistent bias of any protest coverage.

Thanks for your first-hand memories of Seattle.

Rognar said...

I can't speak to the particular example of Seattle because I have no first hand knowledge, so I will speak in hypotheticals. There are times when police have to be proactive. If a group of peaceful protestors sets itself up in an area which is too close to the conference or in some other place which is particularly disruptive, the police may have to act even though the crowd has not done anything to provoke them. The police need to maintain a comfort level so that if a large group of people suddenly turns violent (and that certainly can happen), they can control the situation. Also remember, in a large group, a lone gunman can hide easily. That's why there must be tight controls on access to delegates.

Anonymous said...

Rob, I understand where you are coming from in regards to your comments about the police... However, when such gross misconduct occurs one must ask how such obvious lies can be tolerated. Police are responsible for enforcing the law, so they should be very certain to abide by it.

Yes they are the front line against crime, but I have seen to many instances (especially where I live) where someone needs to be policing the police. I will give you an example:

One morning I was driving to the local Tim Hortons (coffee/donut shop) and I end up stopping at a light so that a police cruiser with lights going can enter the intersection and turn. Right after exiting the intersection he turns off his lights and proceeds into the Tim Hortons. I follow him in and end up in line right behind him. Of course I couldn't let this slide so I make a comment to him that I don't appreciate the abuse of authority to get to a Tim's faster. He just grunted and acted like I wasn't there.

The question you have to ask is that if they are willing to abuse there power for something as simple as a cup of coffee then what else are they willing to do?

Anyway I don't think all cops are bad, in fact I know that most are very good, but the police must investigate these people, charge them where appropriate, and get them off the force. Then maybe people will give them more credit.

laura k said...

"If a group of peaceful protestors sets itself up in an area which is too close to the conference or in some other place which is particularly disruptive, the police may have to act even though the crowd has not done anything to provoke them."

Please understand that in the US, protestors cannot just "set up". They are given permission by the city as to where they can stage a protest.

It often involves weeks or months of negotiating, and the spot the protestors are granted is well clear of any delegates or visitors who they might provoke.

In the last five or so years, we've seen the birth of something ironically called "First Amendment zones". Basically these are wire cages where protestors can shout themselves hoarse while no one will hear or be the slightest bit offended by the sight of opposition opinion.

So Rob, your point about police protecting the delegates would make total sense in a situation consistent with the US constitution. But we don't see that anymore. Protestors are nowhere near anyone else. The police generally aren't protecting anyone.

"Anyway I don't think all cops are bad, in fact I know that most are very good, but the police must investigate these people, charge them where appropriate, and get them off the force. Then maybe people will give them more credit."

This is very true. The "blue wall of silence" that keeps all police defending each other no matter how egregious their offense (including murder) really contributes to their bad reputation.