Excessive Force and Strip Searches Described; Giuliani Blamed for Climate.

(New York, March 27) -- Members of the AIDS activist group ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) will hold a press conference at the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of New York (208 W. 13th St., between 7th & 8th Aves. in Manhattan) to condemn the behavior of New York City Police Officers during a recent peaceful protest earlier this week in lower Manhattan. The police had cordoned off most of the Wall St. area in preparation for the demonstration, and hundreds of police were deployed in a militarized manner and were commanded by Chief of Department Louis Anamone, who personally directed all police operations.


During the demonstration, 73 activists were arrested for committing acts of non-violent civil disobedience, including blocking entrance points set up by the police for employees working in the area. During protestors' arrest and custody, police employed brutal tactics, several of which are illegal, including strip searches, the intentional banging of heads on the ground, tackling from behind, restraint by officers' feet and body weight on necks, arms, and legs, kicking, dragging of arrestees face down across pavement, dragging of arrestees by hand cuffs from behind their backs, pulling by the hair, and use of derogatory epithets.


"At the end of the demonstration, a small group of us passed through police barriers planning to link arms and sit down in the middle of street, as a purely symbolic act of non-violent civil disobedience, not threatening anyone or the police," said Bill Thorne of ACT UP/Golden Gate, from San Francisco.

"I was immediately tackled full force from behind, and then my head was intentionally and repeatedly banged on the pavement at least six times. I was instantly subdued by several officers, all holding me face down by kneeling on each of my arms and legs, my neck, my head, and my back. I was subsequently kicked several times while officers hurled blatantly anti-gay and AIDS-phobic remarks at me. Throughout the assault, I was pleading that I could not breathe, and that I needed medical attention because I was bleeding from my forehead. I was then dragged face down into the police van. At no time was I ever warned to cease and desist or that I was risking arrest, nor was I told my rights or what I was charged with." Thorne was subsequently hospitalized for a head injury, and has been receiving follow-up medical care.

UPDATE 1999: It is with regret to have to convey the news
that Bill Thorne DIED this August, 1999

This past Monday, March 24th, ACT UP held a peaceful march of over 500 people from City Hall down Broadway to Bowling Green, and over and up Broad St. to a protest area set up by police across from the New York Stock Exchange. The demonstration was held to condemn the high prices of AIDS drugs leading to a crisis in access to treatments for people living with HIV/AIDS, and the government's lack of response to the worsening situation. The event was to coincide with the tenth anniversary of ACT UP's very first demonstration, also held in the Wall Street area on March 24, 1987.

"These people were exercising their first amendment rights of assembly and free expression," said Norman Siegel, Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "Some of them also chose to engage in non-violent civil disobedience, a tactic with a long tradition in U.S. and New York City history. However, there appears to have been no need for the police to respond the way they did. There's a way to arrest people committing civil disobedience and take them into custody, and the actions of several officers in this instance raise serious civil liberty concerns."

There have been incidents of police violence directed at ACT UP demonstrations in the past: In 1991 at a peaceful ACT UP demonstration to condemn police violence in midtown Manhattan, officers charged a line of demonstrators, and beat and gay-bashed one of the activists marshalling the demonstration, Chris Hennelly, causing him permanent injury such that he developed epilepsy which plagues him to this day. In a subsequent criminal trial brought against Hennelly by the police accusing him of assaulting an officer, the judge ruled against the police, and in a 25-page opinion condemned the police for their brutal behavior. The Civilian Complaint Review Board subsequently found in Hennelly's favor, and in 1995 he settled a civil suit whereby he was awarded $350,000 in damages.


"The responsiblity for police brutality lies squarely at the feet of the Mayor," said Eric Sawyer of ACT UP/New York. "

As with many communities in this city, Mayor Giuliani has made a political determination to use the police to teach us a lesson to keep quiet, not object to certain policies, and stay in our place. However, people living with AIDS are dying because they cannot get access to new AIDS treatments, and in conscience, we cannot stand by and say nothing. We must confront the drug company profiteers at the root of the crisis, and cannot let the Mayor stand in our way."

The activists indicated they were considering a variety of possible legal options against the city and police department.



Chris Quinn, Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (212) 807-6761

Norman Siegel, New York Civil Liberties Union (212) 382-0557