Human Rights Body Criticizes U.S. for NYPD's Policing of Occupy Wall Street

csmuncypolicebrut.jpg
C.S. Muncy
Police manhandling a minor whose shirt was torn off during arrest at a March Occupy protest.
New Yorkers, if they've been paying any attention at all, have known for a long time that the way the NYPD treats journalists and protesters doesn't exactly live up to what you'd expect in a democratic society with a free press.

Now, it looks like the NYPD's actions in relation to Occupy Wall Street have landed the United States in trouble with the international community, as a new report finds the NYPD and other police departments' actions have violated human rights law.

The report, released today in Vienna by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (a treaty organization of which the US is a member), surveyed how well various member countries were protecting internationally guaranteed rights of assembly in policing popular protest.

The report's authors visited Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Moldova, Poland, Ukraine, Serbia, Slovakia, Switzerland and the U.K. this year, along with stops in New York, Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Maryland during the G8 meeting in May. (Full disclosure: I was among the journalists interviewed by OSCE investigators when they visited New York last spring.)

The report is written in the grey and modulated language of diplomats, and doesn't exactly make for sparkling entertainment. Still, reading between the lines, the message is clear. Take this passage on how the NYPD and LAPD's handling of press freedoms:

Restrictions on the activities of journalists such as the ones imposed during the eviction of the Occupy camps in Los Angeles and New York appear to have been imposed also with the purpose of limiting coverage by the media of these events. As such, they are not in line with relevant OSCE commitments and other human rights standards.

Rendered in plain language: By arresting shoving, obstructing, and kettling journalists, the NYPD broke international human rights law.

And if you've ever wondered why members of a free press should require licensure from the police to do their job, the international human rights observers agree with you:

With respect to journalists' access to assembly locations and to other restrictive measures imposed on them by the police, such as arrests, it should be noted that the authorities should not distinguish between accredited journalists and those without credentials, including citizen journalists, by limiting the ability of the latter to carry out their reporting work.

The report also criticizes the NYPD's (and other police departments') use of kettling, the practice of herding and detaining large groups of people without actually arresting them, and suggests that New York and other cities probably could have found better ways to manage Occupy's public encampments than rolling them up in secretive commando-style operations conducted in the dead of night while doing everything they could to prevent journalists from covering their actions.

Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, who attended the OSCE meeting at which the report was released, said it points to a serious issue.

"There is no part of the world where suppression of protest is not a problem, and the U.S. is no exception," Kiai said in a statement. "Fighting for a meaningful right of free assembly is vital because there can be no democracy without this right. There is no choice - we have to succeed if we want to leave the world a better place for those who come after us."

You can read the full OSCE report here:

OSCE Report on Freedom of Assembly

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[npinto@villagevoice.com] [@macfathom]

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