New York City will pay nearly $US18 million ($A20M) to settle 10-year-old court cases against the arrest of nearly 1800 people during protests at the 2004 Republican National Convention at which President George W. Bush was nominated for his second term.
The settlement, with the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and other civil rights advocates, is the largest protest settlement in history and is hailed as a victory for the American Constitution’s First Amendment.
During the convention, police arrested and fingerprinted more than 1800 protesters, journalists and others who claimed they were simply bystanders.
More were detained around 48 hours at a run down pier that was once a bus depot. The settlement will see them receive an average of around A$7200 each. While NYC has already spent more than A$20M defending claims, around A$8 million of the settlement will go towards the plaintiffs’ legal fees. The city had already spent more than A$2 million settling more than 100 individual cases.
NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said it was the role of government and police to tolerate, as well as protect and defend protest: “This historic settlement must serve as a reminder to New York City and government across the country that the right to protest is a fundamental pillar of a fair and functioning democracy.”
In a joint announcement between the warring parties, they said the settlement was not an admission of liability by the city.
In early October 2004, the NYCLU filed two lawsuits: Schiller v. City of New York for the mass arrest of 226 people on a sidewalk on Fulton Street near the World Trade Centre and Dinler v. City of New York for the mass arrest of nearly 400 people on East 16th Street near Union Square. There were several hundred individual
Last October, the federal District Court ruled that the Fulton Street mass arrest was unconstitutional and rejected the city’s claim that the 16th Street mass arrest was permissible. Judge Richard Sullivan urged the city and the plaintiffs in the dozens of remaining Convention cases to settle. As a condition of settling the two NYCLU cases, the city agreed to abandon all the appeals against last year’s decision.
NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, lead counsel in the cases, called the arrests “one of the darkest chapters in New York City’s long and proud history of protest”.
“While no amount of money can undo the damage inflicted by the NYPD’s actions during the Convention, we hope and expect that this enormous settlement will help assure that what happened in 2004 will not happen again,” he said.
This decision may also have implications for the mass arrests of protesters during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. A number of lawsuits are now before the courts, including a class action for 700 people arrested while marching across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Here’s some NYCLU footage of the protests from the time.
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