Cases of Kettling - Underestimated Week

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS Jennifer Smith

Photo courtesy of Anjali Cadambi.

The whole world was watching.

This time last year, Occupy Wall Street protestors were taking up camera phones and reporting from the front lines of the demonstrations to capture incidents of police brutality and illegal arrests on the part of the New York Police Department. Videos from the protests went viral, and the NYPD came under international scrutiny.

On September 24, 2011, YouTube footage depicting NYPD officers corralling protestors with orange netting emerged. According to an article in The Guardian published the next day, the police used the netting to trap groups of protestors on the sidewalk before making 80 arrests. The now-infamous YouTube video of the event also depicts the NYPD pepper spraying the penned protestors and bystanders.

With upwards of one million views, the video remains as a reminder of the kind of police tactics that caused a national outcry. Now, more than a year after being confined by snow mesh, those arrested on September 24, 2011 might gain a little bit of closure.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund filed a federal lawsuit against New York City on behalf of those arrested on September 24, 2011. The lawsuit, Sterling, et al. v. City of New York, et. al, challenges the myriad of questionable police tactics brought to light during the Occupy movement, including the use of orange netting to arrest protestors and bystanders en masse. According to InterOccupy.net, “the lawsuit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages against NYPD officers for the false arrests and Deputy Inspector Bologna for the pepper spray assault.”

The official complaint suggests that “police routinely abuse their authority to engage in the false arrest of protestors (or persons associated with protest) who are lawfully present on the sidewalks.”

The notorious orange netting showed up in another mass arrest associated with the Occupy movement. On October 1, 2011, more than 700 Occupy Wall Street protestors were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge for blocking vehicular traffic. Many protestors said that the police allowed their entrance to the bridge only to block them with the orange mesh halfway across.

The National Lawyers Guild offers advice for citizens stopped by the police on sidewalks. The first step is to simply ask:  “Am I free to go?”

This query might seem silly though, when surrounded by a police line on all sides. The specific blocking tactic used on the bridge, which involves surrounding a large group with police cordons and then confining the group to a limited area, is called “kettling.” Kettling is controversial owing to the fact that any law-abiding citizen can be caught in the kettle. It’s not unusual for citizens to be detained for hours in a kettle, bound in plastic cuffs, and denied access to a phone call or bathroom.

Luckily, there is some legal recourse for groups of detained or falsely arrested protestors. Just as the plaintiffs of Sterling, et al. v. City of New York, et. al are making their case, a class action suit against the NYPD for the Brooklyn Bridge arrests is also underway.

For these ongoing cases, there is a hopeful ruling for protestors. On October 2, a judge ruled in favor of the protestors involved in the 2004 RNC mass arrest in New York City, saying that the mass arrests, made nearly eight years ago, were illegal and in violation of The Fourth Amendment of The Bill of Rights.

It appears citizens and organizations like The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund won’t stand for a lack of police accountability any longer.

The official complaint of Sterling, et al. v. City of New York, et. al goes on to read:

“The New York City Police Department (NYPD) fundamentally altered the exercise of free speech in New York City by eliminating the guarantees to engage in peaceable protest on the City’s sidewalks without fear of arrest and police violence. These unconstitutional actions send a threatening message to those engaging in political protest and to the public.”

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