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Police Commissioner Defends Surveillance Of RNC Protestors

NY1 | March 27, 2007

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly defended the NYPD's surveillance of protesters in the weeks before the 2004 Republican National Convention during an interview Monday.

Reports say the NYPD sent detectives around the world to gather information on those planning to demonstrate during the convention. Kelly says the surveillance was legal and necessary to be sure the disruption seen in other cities didn't happen here.

"We saw a history of that in other cities – Seattle, Genoa, Montreal, lots of tear gas being used in the streets,” said Kelly. “You didn't see any of that in the city. Eight-hundred thousand people here protested, demonstrated peacefully. The only serious injury that took place during this whole time was a police officer who was assaulted."

Protest organizer Jennifer Flynn says she believes she was being followed by the police in the days leading up to her planned protest outside the GOP Convention.

She says she saw what she believed were undercover detectives staking out her parent's house in New Jersey and her apartment in Brooklyn, and then following her.

"I realized that the cars were following me. I made a right, they made a right, I made a left they made a left,” she recalled Monday.

Flynn joined members of the New York Civil Liberties Union Monday to decry NYPD tactics, after a New York Times article cited documents showing the department infiltrated protest groups and kept activists under surveillance in the lead-up to the convention.

The NYPD says everything it did was legal, but civil rights attorneys say the surveillance violates the so-called Handschu guidelines, a decades old court-monitored agreement that limits police investigations to cases where there is some prior indication of unlawful activity.

"I'm not a criminal; I planned a legal protest," said Flynn. "It's a right."

The NYPD did not comment on Flynn's case, but Kelly said the department investigated anyone who wrote or spoke about disrupting the city.

"Obviously, we were also concerned about groups being infiltrated by individuals who may try to take them over, or influence them to do things that would be very, very disruptive,” said Kelly. “We simply couldn't afford to have this city shut down."

The documents, which were leaked to the Times, have not been publicly released.

The NYCLU is asking a judge to allow them to be made public, but the city has reportedly asked a court to keep all records about the surveillance of activists sealed.

City lawyers say if the files are released, the media would sensationalize the surveillance activities and hurt the city's ability to defend itself in lawsuits over wrongful arrests.

Some New Yorkers NY1 spoke with had a mixed opinion on the issue.

"Do I think they have the right to investigate parties to make sure the public's safety is ensured? Absolutely,” said one New Yorker. “Do I think they can use that as an umbrella to go investigate specific people who had no particular need to be investigated? No, I don't think so.”

“I think the documents should be released,” added another. “I think the American public is generally educated and intelligent enough to figure it out.”

“They should be made to justify why they were spying on people,” said a third. “If there was nothing wrong, they shouldn't be doing it. If people weren't doing anything wrong, the police should not be watching them like that."

The New York Civil Liberties Union is considering a lawsuit.

Almost 2,000 protestors were arrested at the four day convention, but most of the charges were dropped.

In another move inspired by the GOP Convention arrests, the NYCLU is urging the City Council to pass the "Charge or Release Bill."

More than a thousand New Yorkers and 15 civil rights groups signed the document.

The bill would ensure arraignments take place within 24 hours of a person's arrest.

Supporters of the bill, which the Council has yet to vote on, say it will keep innocent people from being held in jail, and will save the city money.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn stands behind the right to a 24-hour arraignment and says the city must make every effort to meet this goal.

She says while there are some circumstances that require a longer wait time: "A full day affords the police, the prosecutors, the defenders and the courts ample time to process a person for arraignment."

 

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