Tuesday, April 12, 2005

can't we all just get along?

cameras are a protester's friend. at least, when the protesters have the cameras. when the cops have the cameras, they aren't always so beneficial.

Dennis Kyne put up such a fight at a political protest last summer, the arresting officer recalled, it took four police officers to haul him down the steps of the New York Public Library and across Fifth Avenue.

"We picked him up and we carried him while he squirmed and screamed," the officer, Matthew Wohl, testified in December. "I had one of his legs because he was kicking and refusing to walk on his own."

Accused of inciting a riot and resisting arrest, Mr. Kyne was the first of the 1,806 people arrested in New York last summer during the Republican National Convention to take his case to a jury. But one day after Officer Wohl testified, and before the defense called a single witness, the prosecutor abruptly dropped all charges.

During a recess, the defense had brought new information to the prosecutor. A videotape shot by a documentary filmmaker showed Mr. Kyne agitated but plainly walking under his own power down the library steps, contradicting the vivid account of Officer Wohl, who was nowhere to be seen in the pictures. Nor was the officer seen taking part in the arrests of four other people at the library against whom he signed complaints.

it's hardly a complaint that standard operating procedure for police at protests is to aggressively confront the protesters, herd them into tiny areas, arrest them by the hundreds for no particular reason, and beat the shit out of them if they resist too much. and it's nice to see that many of these rnc protesters are being exonerated. but i still must wonder how many millions of dollars have been wasted on these unnecessary trials... not just all that govt money, but the money the protesters must spend on their defense against their wrongful arrests.

Seven months after the convention at Madison Square Garden, criminal charges have fallen against all but a handful of people arrested that week. Of the 1,670 cases that have run their full course, 91 percent ended with the charges dismissed or with a verdict of not guilty after trial. Many were dropped without any finding of wrongdoing, but also without any serious inquiry into the circumstances of the arrests, with the Manhattan district attorney's office agreeing that the cases should be "adjourned in contemplation of dismissal."

So far, 162 defendants have either pleaded guilty or were convicted after trial, and videotapes that bolstered the prosecution's case played a role in at least some of those cases, although prosecutors could not provide details.

emphasis mine. now that digital video technology is getting affordable, more people are buying it... they're taking their cams into the street during protests, and documenting police harrassment. i'm a bit skeptical of the next paragraph, though:

Besides offering little support or actually undercutting the prosecution of most of the people arrested, the videotapes also highlight another substantial piece of the historical record: the Police Department's tactics in controlling the demonstrations, parades and rallies of hundreds of thousands of people were largely free of explicit violence.

now, the times does not offer any actual evidence that the tactics "were largely free of explicit violence", only statements from city and police officials. and of course, a police spokesman isn't going to say "yeah, we beat the fuck out of a bunch of those people."

and even assuming that it was "largely" free of "explicit" violence (meaning there was still some amount of explicit violence, and god knows how much non-explicit violence), i would have to say that if only 9% of the people you arrest actually get convicted of something, then clearly the police are abusing their powers and are wrongfully arresting tons of people. whether those arrestees are getting bruised or not is almost irrelevant: their rights are still being abridged, they're still stuck wallowing in jail, and they still have to pay bail, court fees, and so on. and we know that the police have edited at least one video, though the claim it was a mistake:

Video is a useful source of evidence, but not an easy one to manage, because of the difficulties in finding a fleeting image in hundreds of hours of tape. Moreover, many of the tapes lack index and time markings, so cuts in the tape are not immediately apparent.

That was a problem in the case of Mr. Dunlop, who learned that his tape had been altered only after Ms. Clancy found another version of the same tape. Mr. Dunlop had been accused of pushing his bicycle into a line of police officers on the Lower East Side and of resisting arrest, but the deleted parts of the tape show him calmly approaching the police line, and later submitting to arrest without apparent incident.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney, Barbara Thompson, said the material had been cut by a technician in the prosecutor's office. "It was our mistake," she said. "The assistant district attorney wanted to include that portion" because she initially believed that it supported the charges against Mr. Dunlop. Later, however, the arresting officer, who does not appear on the video, was no longer sure of the specifics in the complaint against Mr. Dunlop.

and i also have to wonder how many more cameras were out there that were confiscated by police.

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