The NYPD April 2 defended its surveillance of political activists before the 2004 Republican National Convention (RNC). The NYPD statement admitted “detectives collected information both in-state and out-of-state to learn in advance what was coming our way,” but said the intention was to stop terrorists. The New York Times says still-secret NYPD reports show police went undercover sometimes posing as activists themselves, even made friends with protestors. “People are not going to want to go to demonstrate if they know big brother is in there with them, organizing the protest, watching them, whatever it may be,” charged Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).
The satirical “Billionaires for Bush” now believes they were infiltrated. “We had our suspicions during the RNC, especially during our meetings when independent film crews were showing up every week never to be seen again,” said the Billionaires’ Marco Ceglie.
“What we have reported here appears to be spying on lawful political protest, and it’s the kind of spying that really has no place in a free and open society,” said Lieberman. NYCLU is considering legal action against the NYPD. Meanwhile, several civil lawsuits are still pending against the department for arrests made during the convention. (NY1, April 3, NYT, March 25)
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly responded to the charges: “We did an absolute superb job. The Republican National Convention was the Police Department’s finest hour.” (Daily News, March 31) Paul J. Browne, chief spokesman for the Police Department, who said, “All our activities were legal and were subject in advance to Handschu review.” In the 1985 Handschu settlement, Federal Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. found that before monitoring political activity, the police must have “some indication of unlawful activity on the part of the individual or organization to be investigated.” In an opinion piece entitled “Government Needs Leeway in Dangerous Times,” former mayor Ed Koch supports the NYPD’s demand that the Handschu standard be loosened. (Yahoo News, March 28)