Civil rights groups say police officers from the New York Police Department stepped on the rights of protesters at the Republican National Convention in New York City last week.

Activists and civil libertarians say the use of orange plastic nets to hold large numbers of people for arrests and the extended detentions of protesters violated the individuals’ basic rights. They also contend that the tactics caused innocent bystanders to be arrested and detained unlawfully. They point out that police must have probable cause to arrest someone.

But civil rights groups are not concerned as much with getting justice for the individual protesters who were arrested and detained during the convention as with the potential for the same tactics to be used in the future to hamper Americans’ freedom of speech.

“The problem is not what happened in New York. That’s over and it was not bad,” says Alan Dershowitz, a legal scholar at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. “The problem is how this precedent could be used in the future by other police forces to control the content of speech.”

Many protesters believe the lengthy detentions they endured, some for as many as 66 hours, were purposeful attempts to keep them off the streets protesting Bush.

For the city’s inability to quickly process those arrested near the convention, a judge ordered the city to release them or pay $1,000 for each person kept beyond a certain time. The city is estimated to be facing $560,000 in fines.

But Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg both say there were just too many people to process in a timely manner.

Bloomberg says, “We had to process 1,200 people in one day rather than our normal 300 people. The judge says it’s unreasonable to take more than 24 hours. I don’t know what we could have done.”

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