Early Court Win for Protesters on Searches, Barricades


A federal court in Manhattan has forbidden the NYPD from deploying some of its infamous crowd-control tactics at the Republican National Convention.

In a July 16 decision, Judge Robert Sweet specifically blocked the use of the four-sided metal barricades known as “pens,” because of their interference with free-speech rights, and the searching of people’s possessions without individualized suspicion of a specific safety threat.

He also called the cops on the problem of disinformation that protesters found so infuriating at the large antiwar demonstrations last year—namely the turning away of participants from certain entry points with absolutely no guidance on where else they might find access.

The ruling was a preliminary injunction, issued when a court believes that the complainants would otherwise suffer “irreparable harm” and will ultimately win the case. The lawsuit was brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of individual activists, including a 61-year-old, wheelchair-bound woman who claimed that a cop barred her from leaving a protest pen to use a bathroom.

The 80-page decision reveals a number of troubling police practices, among them the lack of formal, written instructions on how to provide proper access to protest sites.

Moreover, the metal pens are apparently far from essential to public safety. Wrote Judge Sweet of the pen-free March 2004 antiwar demonstration, “The NYPD estimated that over 40,000 people attended. . . . Other than a single incident at which it took a little longer to get medical assistance to one person, the NYPD’s decision not to use pens . . . did not create any problems.”

The city issued a statement calling the court’s ruling superfluous, claiming that the NYPD was going to fix those problems anyway. It is “considering its ongoing legal options.”