Q: “What sort of training did you receive concerning the First Amendment?”
A: “That was probably back in the academy. I don’t remember.”
Q.: “What does the First Amendment mean in your police work?”
A.: “I don’t — I don’t know.”
Q: “And do you recall what training at the academy you received that concerned First Amendment activity?”
A.: “No, I really don’t, no.”
That was Lt. Jack Konstantinidis, now retired after 23 years on the job, testifying under oath last year about the months he spent policing Occupy Wall Street as the platoon commander for the 1st Precinct.
Occupy, born four years ago Thursday, didn’t collapse under its own weight. It might have, but before we could find out, it was taken down by New York City, with the boys in blue busting Zuccotti Park heads and taking names under color of law.
That’s the fancy phrase for when the authorities use the law to do something illegal, like shutting down a political protest for disturbing the peace.
Which is what distinguishes a new class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of nine named plaintiffs — including a retired Episcopal bishop and a press photographer — who were arrested while on sidewalks and crosswalks while marching to mark Occupy’s first anniversary.
The suit charges that the city, under Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Ray Kelly, showed “deliberate indifference” to the First Amendment in continually using bogus disorderly conduct charges to arrest protesters engaged only in expressive speech.
That indifference, the suit charges, dates back to the 2004 mass arrests at the Republican National Convention. But the city stuck with its arrest first, settle lawsuits later approach, so that a year after Occupy dominated the headlines, 10 months after the NYPD cleared the park by force, the police kept right on arresting protesters and members of the press more or less at random.
I can vouch for that, having been penned in, screamed at, warned of arrest and shoved to the ground over months reporting from Zuccotti and on Occupy.
That uniformed menace was the point from the Bloomberg administration’s perspective, a way to discourage others from joining in. Of course, that was nakedly unconstitutional, and the city is still paying the bill for its contempt.
Out of 2,644 Occupy-related arrests in Manhattan in the year starting on Sept. 17 of 2011, just 409 ended in a plea or conviction. That’s a go-back-to-the-minors .150 batting average.. New York City has paid out $1.5 million, not counting legal fees, to settle 80 suits so far, with dozens more still pending.
What gives this new one such heft is the dozens of depositions attorneys Wylie Stecklow and Jeffrey Smith have collected from members of the NYPD up and down the ranks, in which they testify they’ve been trained in an awful lot of things — but never in how to handle peaceful protests consistent with the hallowed American right of free expression.
Take Lt. Konstantinidis’ then-boss, Deputy Inspector Edward Winski, one of the “white shirts” who set the Zuccotti tone, telling the men in his command not to speak at all to protesters.
Since leaving the academy, Winski (who’s since been promoted to full inspector) testified that he’d received sergeant, lieutenant, captain and inspector training, to go along with twice-a-year firearm training and training in using batons, tasers and pepper spray; training in plainclothes, search warrants and identification of drugs.
Plus “disorder control training,” where, he said, “we had some like physical training where we formed different lines and wedges which are used in crowd control.”
He even worked as a training sergeant. So was he ever trained on expressive speech and public assemblies?
“It’s possible. I don’t recall.”
Later in his deposition, Winski, who’s named in at least 10 outstanding Occupy-related suits, is asked if the NYPD has offered any written policy about policing public protest since 2011.
“Not that I’m aware of.”
Is there anything, Winski is asked, he would have done differently?
“First, I hope I never have to go through that again, but would wish there would be more cooperation. We tried in the beginning to cooperate, and I think that lack of cooperation, you know, spiraled out of control.”
Yes, stuff happens. Especially when it’s not the sort of stuff you train for, or think much about until it’s on top of you.
But hey, what are the odds that Black Lives Matters protesters are going to block bridges, or inequality types are going to occupy privately owned public parks, or . . .
Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bill Bratton might want to publicly announce a real plan now, before the NYPD helps things “spiral out of control” again.