The Criminalization of Dissent

National Lawyers Guild publishes The Assault on Free Speech, Public Assembly, and Dissent

| October 2004

On October 7, all charges were dropped against 227 people jailed as part of a mass arrest on August 31st, the second day of the Republican National Convention.

Protest leaders had conferred with police on-site and gotten approval for a march, but minutes later the whole group -- including media, legal observers, and tourists -- were arrested, allegedly for blocking the sidewalk.

Simon Harak, a coordinator with the War Resisters League who was arrested in the protest, said, 'There was no basis for the arrest. We were not in violation of any law. We were in the process of beginning to exercise our freedom of speech.'

Harak spoke of being flex-cuffed and sitting in the sun for two and a half hours. He said that many were held for two days or more in a filthy holding area on a Manhattan pier. 'What had we done?' He asked.

Police conduct was so unusual that Judge John Cataldo of the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, held New York City in contempt -- a highly unusual action -- on Thursday, September 2, finding that more than 550 protesters were held over 24 hours without charges filed.

'The overall process, particularly for people arrested on August 31st, raises serious concerns that there was an effort to detain people until after Bush spoke on Tuesday night,' said Bruce Bentley, the RNC mass defense coordinator for the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.