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June 13, 2007

2007.06.13: Police Abuse: Dispute Over Arrest Pattern at the Puerto Rican Parade

From: Michael Letwin
Sent: Wednesday, June 13, 2007 9:16 PM
To: 1199 Members; ALAA MEMBERS
Subject: Police Abuse: Dispute Over Arrest Pattern at the Puerto Rican Parade

June 13, 2007
Dispute Over Arrest Pattern at the Puerto Rican Parade By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS

Details of the complaints by police against the people arrested at the Puerto Rican Day Parade on Sunday outline a pattern in the way they were arrested, according to documents released yesterday.

Criminal complaints filed against 10 defendants show that the police were concerned about the risk that those arrested would engage in violent or threatening behavior or cause some public inconvenience.

The complaints also indicate that the police were looking for signs of gang identification, like clothing colors and hand signals, when they arrested people.

Police officials said yesterday that everyone arrested on Sunday was arrested for engaging in specific illegal behavior, like pushing or blocking pedestrian traffic, not for something they had not yet done or for circumstantial reasons like wearing gang colors.

“It’s situational — officers reacted to the situation,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said yesterday of Sunday’s arrests. “They made, in my judgment, appropriate arrests. It doesn’t seem to me to be out of the ordinary in terms of the numbers that we’ve had associated with parades in the past.”

Civil liberties experts said the pattern of the complaints suggested that the police might have been arresting people en masse and swept up some innocent bystanders along the way.

Similar concerns have been raised by civil liberties advocates about other group arrests in recent years, as happened at the Republican National Convention in 2004, the World Economic Forum in 2002 and a gathering of young people last month in Bushwick, Brooklyn, when the police arrested about 30 people on the way to a friend’s wake.

Christopher Dunn, a lawyer for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that when there are “indiscriminate mass arrests,” you have “innocent bystanders being arrested,” and that may have happened at the Puerto Rican Day Parade. He added, “These same tactics tarnished the policing of the Republican National Convention.”

Paul J. Browne, a deputy police commissioner, defended the arrests. “There were no pre-emptive arrests made at the Republican National Convention, none made in Bushwick, and there were none made here,” he said.

The police said they arrested 208 people at this year’s parade, including 132 who were charged with unlawful assembly. Mr. Dunn said it was customary for people charged with minor offenses to be given summonses and allowed to go home. Instead, dozens were arrested, jailed overnight and fingerprinted before being released, according to a supervisor with the Legal Aid Society.

Mr. Browne said most of the people the police suspected of being gang members were from out of town, and so did not qualify for desk appearance tickets.

The number of arrests made at last year’s parade was also in dispute yesterday. News reports of the 2006 arrests said at the time that roughly 50 to 60 people were arrested, and yesterday’s New York Times report on Sunday’s parade adopted the figure of “at least 50” used in The Times’s 2006 account.

But Mr. Browne said yesterday that there were actually 151 arrests made at the parade last year. He also said there were 223 arrests at the parade the year before, in 2005.

But in describing the 2006 arrests, the Manhattan district attorney’s office yesterday gave a number much lower than the Police Department’s. “We were informed by the Police Department that there were 64 arrests last year,” Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said yesterday.

Later, Mr. Browne said that the 64 arrests were processed at Police Headquarters but that 87 more arrests were processed at precinct stations or went directly to court.

The police acknowledged that the number of people suspected of being gang members arrested at the parade this year rose sharply to 198 from 69 last year.

Mr. Browne said that although the parade committee had expressed concern that a gang, the Latin Kings, might try to crash the parade, the police were not acting on an order from any public official like the mayor or the police commissioner.

Edward McCarthy, a Legal Aid Society lawyer, said during the arraignments on Monday that most of the defendants did not appear to have prior criminal records. Mr. Browne said he could not confirm or deny that.

In interviews on Monday, many of those arrested at the parade said they were not gang members. Although a few of those who were arraigned on Monday were wearing yellow or gold and black, the colors of the Latin Kings, many more people were wearing red, blue and white, the Puerto Rican flag colors.

Even some of those wearing yellow and black denied that they were gang members, and Panama Vicente Alba, a Puerto Rican activist, said yesterday that the black and gold beads and clothing associated with Latin Kings were popular for other reasons as well.

“The use of beads is particularly prominent amongst the many thousands (perhaps millions) in our community who practice the Yoruba religion,” Mr. Alba wrote in an e-mail message. “Many such individuals were either arrested or ordered to remove their beads during this year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade.”

Al Baker and Thomas J. Lueck contributed reporting.

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