In late September 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement was just a few weeks old. Waves of locally organized protests were unfurling across the country, and New York City was the movement’s emotional epicenter. Full of momentum and support from around the country, thousands gathered for yet another march in the Big Apple, this time focused on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Within minutes of setting foot on the bridge, and much to the surprise of the protesters, New York police officers began arresting participants en masse and without clear indication of the charges. When it was all done, over 700 protesters were in handcuffs. The incident sparked international outcry, and only served to spark more marches and protests around the world.
Now, a federal judge has ruled that the officers at the head of the march failed to sufficiently warn the Occupy Wall Street protesters that walking on the roadway would result in arrest and opened the path for a massive class action lawsuit against the NYPD. New York’s “finest” have been accused of wrongful arrests and unnecessary violence multiple times as the movement grew.
“A reasonable officer in the noisy environment defendants occupied would have known that a single bull horn could not reasonably communicate a message to 700 demonstrators,” wrote Jed S Rakoff of the federal district court in Manhattan, in his decision. Rakoff added that protesters “might infer permission to enter the vehicular roadway from the fact that officers, without offering further warnings, proceeded ahead of and alongside plaintiffs onto that roadway”.
Video shot by marchers was a huge factor in Rakoff’s decision, and reinforced protesters allegations that the police had led them onto the roadway, indicating that it was fine for the people to follow. Police maintained that the demonstrators were sufficiently informed that walking on the area intended for vehicles would result in detention, but even their own video footage did not support this claim.
According to The Guardian, the decision clears the way for a class-action lawsuit accusing police officers and officials involved in the arrests of violating the protesters’ constitutional rights by leading them into a trap. The lawsuit calls for all arrest records stemming from the incident to be cleared, an injunction to end the police practice of trapping and detaining demonstrators, and damages to be awarded to those who were arrested.
Image via nick gulotta/Flickr