A group of 14 Occupy Wall Street protesters filed a lawsuit in federal court today alleging that the NYPD violated their Constitutional rights by arresting them during an impromptu march near Zuccotti Park in the early hours of New Year's Day. Attorneys for the plaintiffs from Stecklow Cohen & Thompson claim that the NYPD used an "illegal 'trap and arrest' tactic" to detain the protesters with the orange netting that has become ubiquitous during Occupy events. "Whenever the police unlawfully arrest peaceful protestors, it chips away the people's Constitutional right to protest for redress of grievances," attorney David Thompson says in a release.
Nearly 70 protesters were arrested that evening, many for trespassing or the catchall charge: obstructing governmental administration. The suit asks for damages and other forms of relief.
The NYPD's use of the orange netting is a hallmark of what Brooklyn College professor Alex Vitale refers to as the "command and control" style of protest policing—subdividing a crowd of protesters, while using barricades to limit access and maintaining a heavy police presence to intimidate or arrest anyone who steps out of line (whether or not it is merited) all serves to make citizens think twice before demonstrating (or taking photos). Thompson agrees: "If the NYPD regularly arrested every 100th person entering Macy's people would very quickly stop going to Macy's." (Unless they're buying Donald Trump's ties.)
Thompson continues, "The NYPD arrested the plaintiffs in this case knowing that it would have a chilling effect on protest throughout the city. In fact, that's the reason these arrests were made." Stecklow, whose firm has taken many free speech cases, Occupy and otherwise, in the past year, says, "The folks being praised this week for their great civic response as part of OCCUPY SANDY, are the same amazing citizens who should have been praised for their civic participation as part of Occupy Wall Street. Instead, they were arrested."
Recently, three Occupy Wall Street protesters won a $50,000 settlement with the city after they were detained and interrogated for no reason on November 17, 2011.