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Historic Settlement of 2004 RNC Mass Arrests a Welcome Victory for Civil Liberties

Dissent IS Patriotic

After nearly a decade of legal wrangling, there is finally some justice for more than 1,800 peaceful protesters arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. The $18 million agreement announced Wednesday is the largest protest-related civil rights settlement in American history, and sends an important message to police departments around the country about the constitutional rights of assembly and free speech.

Although the deal does not explicitly assign liability on the part of the New York Police Department, it nevertheless involves a payment of $10.4 million to individual plaintiffs and to 1,200 members of a class action, and a further $7.6 million in attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses.

The settlement comes 15 months after a ruling by a federal judge in September 2012, which determined that “there was no probable cause to arrest protestors” and that “an officer must have individualized probable cause to arrest an individual and that mere proximity to illegal conduct does not establish probable cause with respect to an individual.”

In that decision, Judge Richard Sullivan, a George W. Bush appointee, fretted that the continued delay of the case’s settlement – largely the result of countless legal roadblocks erected by the City of New York – would “achieve the worst of each alternative, to the detriment of all parties and the Court itself.”

“With that in mind,” Sullivan wrote, “the Court urge[d] the parties and their counsel to confer and assess the proper course toward a speedy and just resolution of these actions.”

As one of the plaintiffs in the case, arrested with 225 others on a sidewalk on Fulton Street near the World Trade Center on August 31, I have long been waiting for vindication of what I always saw as unjust treatment at the hands of the NYPD, especially the prolonged detention we endured in a filthy old bus depot converted into a makeshift detention center for RNC protesters – Pier 57, or what we arrestees sardonically called it, “Guantanamo on the Hudson.”

I had travelled to New York from Washington with members of the DC Anti-War Network (DAWN) to protest the Republicans, specifically motivated by the Iraq War, Bush’s indefinite detention and torture policies, as well as the very fact that Bush/Cheney reelection campaign was cynically using the backdrop of the 9/11 tragedy for its convention.  I couldn’t help but see the choice of New York City as anything but a callous attempt to further exploit the victims of 9/11 to advance the Bush administration’s neoconservative agenda. [cont’d.]

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Historic Settlement of 2004 RNC Mass Arrests a Welcome Victory for Civil Liberties

Dissent IS Patriotic

After nearly a decade of legal wrangling, there is finally some justice for more than 1,800 peaceful protesters arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. The $18 million agreement announced Wednesday is the largest protest-related civil rights settlement in American history, and sends an important message to police departments around the country about the constitutional rights of assembly and free speech.

Although the deal does not explicitly assign liability on the part of the New York Police Department, it nevertheless involves a payment of $10.4 million to individual plaintiffs and to 1,200 members of a class action, and a further $7.6 million in attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses.

The settlement comes 15 months after a ruling by a federal judge in September 2012, which determined that “there was no probable cause to arrest protestors” and that “an officer must have individualized probable cause to arrest an individual and that mere proximity to illegal conduct does not establish probable cause with respect to an individual.”

In that decision, Judge Richard Sullivan, a George W. Bush appointee, fretted that the continued delay of the case’s settlement – largely the result of countless legal roadblocks erected by the City of New York – would “achieve the worst of each alternative, to the detriment of all parties and the Court itself.”

“With that in mind,” Sullivan wrote, “the Court urge[d] the parties and their counsel to confer and assess the proper course toward a speedy and just resolution of these actions.”

As one of the plaintiffs in the case, arrested with 225 others on a sidewalk on Fulton Street near the World Trade Center on August 31, I have long been waiting for vindication of what I always saw as unjust treatment at the hands of the NYPD, especially the prolonged detention we endured in a filthy old bus depot converted into a makeshift detention center for RNC protesters – Pier 57, or what we arrestees sardonically called it, “Guantanamo on the Hudson.”

I had travelled to New York from Washington with members of the DC Anti-War Network (DAWN) to protest the Republicans, specifically motivated by the Iraq War, Bush’s indefinite detention and torture policies, as well as the very fact that Bush/Cheney reelection campaign was cynically using the backdrop of the 9/11 tragedy for its convention.  I couldn’t help but see the choice of New York City as anything but a callous attempt to further exploit the victims of 9/11 to advance the Bush administration’s neoconservative agenda.

By then, the Iraq War had turned ugly, with the first battle of Fallujah taking place just a few months earlier. In April 2004, U.S. Marines killed untold numbers of Iraqi civilians in the restive Iraqi town. “Two football fields were turned into cemeteries, with hundreds of freshly dug graves, marked with wooden planks scrawled with names – some with names of women, some marked specifically as children,” reported the Associated Press at the time.

For those of us committed to peaceful alternatives to the war on terror, the only question was which of the many decentralized demonstrations to join in New York. I and other DAWN members were intent on voicing our opposition to the war, and decided therefore to focus on protests with the clearest antiwar messages.

A31

It was day two of the 2004 Republican National Convention, a hot and humid Tuesday, and tensions between protesters and police were high. Two days earlier, a mass march of at least 500,000 had ended in chaos when a group of black-clad protesters set fire to a giant papier mache dragon directly in front of Madison Square Garden, where GOP delegates would be gathering for the RNC.

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