New Report Documents Human Rights Violations In Police Response To Occupy Wall Street


A newly released report by human rights lawyers documents widespread police abuse of the rights of Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Over 195 pages, the report offers the most detailed and comprehensive accounting yet of the New York Police Department’s response to the Occupy Wall Street movement, from its first gatherings in September of last year through ongoing protests earlier this month.

The report, downloadable here, is a joint project of New York University Law School’s Global Justice Clinic and the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice.

Some of the incidents documented in the report, including the unprovoked pepper-spraying of two kettled women by Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna and the suppression of press attempting to report on the dead-of-night November eviction operation, will be familiar to readers of the Voice and other media coverage of Occupy Wall Street.

But the report goes well beyond the few incidents that received widespread coverage. Culling media accounts (including some from the Voice), video footage, twitter reports, and legal observers’ own experiences, the report enumerates 130 specific incidents in which police are alleged to have used excessive force, filed under such categories as “Bodily Force: Pushing, Shoving, Dragging, Hitting, Punching, Kicking;” “Weapon Use: Batons, Pepper Spray, Barricades, Scooters, Horses;” and “Delays and Denial of Medical Care.”

Other section headings read like a catalog of abuses from a banana republic: “Arrests of Journalists,” “Physical Abuse of Journalists,” “Obstruction of Independent Monitoring By Legal Observers.”

While the Occupy protests have diminished in size and frequency in the months since the eviction from Zuccotti Park, the report shows that police overreaction has continued. A sample entry from a recent gathering:

“On June 13, 2012, as described above, witnesses (including a member of the Research Team) observed an officer kick a protester in the face. The witnesses attempted to obtain the name and badge number of the officer responsible, to enable subsequent investigation. However, the officer refused to provide it and moved away. At least two separate groups of other officers actively obstructed the witnesses from obtaining the officer’s name, despite repeated requests and explanations of the purpose. The responsible officer was observed getting into a police van, which then drove away.”

But while many of the individual incidents are disturbing in their own right, the report’s real contribution is in showing pulling the individual incidents together to paint a broader picture, says Sarah Knuckey, a professor at NYU Law School and one of the lead authors of the report. “When you look at all these incidents together, there’s a pattern of suppression.”

Emi MacLean, a human rights lawyer and another of the authors, says the report describes a dynamic in which public demonstrations are seen as threatening and police are free to respond as they like without consequence.

“There’s a perception that the protests pose some sort of risk, and that there’s no risk at all to what the police are doing to control them,” MacLean says.

The report cites federal and international laws protecting rights to assembly and expression that the documented incidents violate, and notes that in addition to being illegal, the NYPD’s violation of protest rights has reverberated beyond American borders.

“As the Occupy protests entered the world stage, governments around the world also paid close attention to the U.S. authorities’ responses. Some countries, when pressed about their own mass arrests and beatings of protesters, have justified their actions by pointing to the highly visible and aggressive policing practices in the United States. Some other countries’ responses to protests have been far–and sometimes, incomparably–worse than U.S. authorities’ responses. Yet the restriction of protest in U.S. cities exposes the double standard inherent in frequent U.S. government
critiques of other governments for repressing their peoples’ protest rights.”

This week’s report is the first in a planned series. Subsequent releases will document police response to Occupy protests in Boston, Charlotte, Oakland and San Francisco.

The NYPD declined to meet or speak with the authors of the report, unlike police departments in the four other cities. In a letter to the authors,Assistant Deputy Commissioner Thomas Doepfner explained the refusal by noting that lawyers associated with the group that published the report are involved in litigation related to Occupy Wall street, and that it would thus be inappropriate for any NYPD personnel to take part in interviews.

The letter continues, in part:

It is our view, however, that the police actions that have been taken in connection with Occupy Wall Street activities have been lawful…. In addition, the Department has accommodated on an almost daily basis since last fall, numerous large groups of demonstrators and marchers, all with virtually no cooperation, notice, or advance planning from Occupy Wall Street representatives.”

The report concludes with a set of recommendations. Among them: the mayor should establish an independent review of how police responded to Occupy protests; the the police and the Civilian Complaint Review Board should investigate the allegations in the report; an independent Inspector General should be created to oversee the police; and the NYPD should adopt and publicize new protest policies that respect civil liberties and human rights. If city officials don’t follow through, the report suggests “the U.S. Department of Justice must exercise its authority to investigate allegations of official misconduct.”