This article was originally published in Partisan issue no. 21, printed September 2005.
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibits restrictions on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or the right to "assemble and petition for the redress of grievances." Along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, it was passed because many states refused to ratify the Constitution unless protections against dictatorship were put in.
After the Civil War, the 14th Amendment was passed to make it clear that state and local governments were also bound to respect these rights. Unfortunately, we only have the rights we're prepared to fight for, and attacks on speech, press and assembly continue.
The Los Angeles settlement
It took five years in court to make the Los Angeles Police Department settle with political protesters who sued the LAPD for its brutal and unconstitutional actions during and after the Democratic Party National Convention in August 2000.
The June agreement awards $705,000 to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), the October 22nd Coalition Against Police Brutality, the Los Angeles Coalition to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the "DNC2K" umbrella coalition and their attorneys.
Most importantly, it stipulates that the LAPD will no longer use rubber bullets and other violent means to attack lawful protesters, terminate their rallies illegally, stop people from coming and going as they wish at demonstrations, or prevent speakers at political rallies from being heard by the use of police helicopters.
This follows a similar settlement reached in Oakland in November 2004. The Oakland Police Department (OPD) was forced to adopt a policy prohibiting the indiscriminate use of wooden bullets, rubber bullets, tasers, bean bags, pepper spray and motorcycles to control or disperse crowds.
That settlement was the result of a class action suit filed by 52 people whose rights were violated when police opened fire on a peaceful anti-war protest at the Oakland docks on April 7, 2003. At least 58 people, including nine dockworkers waiting to go to work, were injured at that protest.
At Partisan press time, it appeared that the City of Oakland had reached a major cash settlement with Willow Rosenthal, the most seriously injured of the demonstrators. The nine ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) workers are still pursuing their separate suit. That case will come to trial in January 2006.
These cases were fought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) as well as individual attorneys who have put in countless hours.