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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/3/20

Protesters Attacked by Police Are Suing to Vindicate Their Constitutional Rights

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From Truthout

NYPD cruisers ramming into protesters behind a barricade, sending bodies flying.
NYPD cruisers ramming into protesters behind a barricade, sending bodies flying.
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Protesters demonstrating against white supremacy and police brutality in the wake of George Floyd's public lynching have been met with illegal repression by law enforcement. Police have utilized toxic chemical and sonic weapons, dangerous projectiles, intrusive surveillance, physical violence and "kettling" to trap demonstrators after dispersal orders are given.

In a study conducted by the University of Chicago Law School's International Human Rights Clinic, researchers found not one police department in the 20 largest U.S. cities in compliance with minimum human rights standards governing use of lethal force. They called the use of force by police "state-sanctioned violence."

Victims of police abuse are filing litigation, and at least one judge has put a halt to some of the most egregious misconduct.

Widespread, Egregious Police Abuse of Protesters

On May 30, Tina Crnko was marching at the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles rally when police shot her in the ribcage and bicep with kinetic impact projectiles (KIPs), also known as "rubber bullets." KIPs can result in serious organ damage and even death, particularly when shot at the head, neck or torso.

Crnko is a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California by the National Lawyers Guild, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Community Action Network. Crnko was hit on her forehead above the eye. She bled profusely and experienced temporary hearing loss and extreme pain. Three weeks later, she still suffered nerve damage.

Another plaintiff in the Los Angeles lawsuit, Alicia Barrera-Trujillo, participated in a peaceful protest on June 1. When she tried to leave a little before 5 pm, she and other protesters were "kettled" surrounded by police to prevent anyone from leaving. Police then fired rubber bullets into the group. Barrera-Trujillo alleges that an officer sprayed an aerosol agent at a woman with a small child who was crying. Both the woman and child exhibited pain from the spray.

Katharine Miller was on the ground kneeling at a June 1 protest when a Philadelphia police officer pepper sprayed her in the face and then pulled down the goggles on the woman next to her and sprayed her too.

"Less-lethal weapons such as tear gas and pepper spray grenades, and impact projectiles such as sponge rounds, baton rounds, and rubber bullets should never be shot at close range or aimed at the head, as serious injury or death is possible," according to Amnesty International.

On May 31, Minneapolis police and Minnesota National Guards shot projectiles at people standing peacefully on their front porches, a report by Amnesty International concluded. Before they started firing, the forces yelled, "Light them up." They were apparently retaliating against people outside after curfew using their smartphones to videotape the forces.

The report documented 125 incidents of police violence against protesters in 40 states and Washington, D.C., from May 26 to June 5, committed by state and local police departments, National Guard troops and security personnel from federal agencies. The abuses, recorded in 500 videos, include beatings, misuse of pepper spray and tear gas, and inappropriate, even indiscriminate, firing of rubber bullets and sponge grenades or sponge-tipped bullets.

"These human rights violations by US police against peaceful protesters which were neither proportionate nor necessary to achieve a legitimate law enforcement objective are particularly egregious as they have occurred at demonstrations denouncing just such police behavior," the Amnesty report noted.

Even when a minority of protesters committed unlawful acts, "security forces have routinely used disproportionate and indiscriminate force against entire demonstrations without distinguishing, as legally required, between peaceful protesters and individuals committing unlawful acts," the report found.

The most striking thing about the documented incidents, aside from the severity of the abuses, is "the national scale of the problem of police violence," with violations occurring in both large cities and small towns all over the country

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Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a member of the National Advisory Board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. See  (more...)

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