The Cost of US Police Brutality During Protests

Police at 2003 FTAA protest in Miami
Police at 2003 FTAA protest in Miami
Major US cities have paid $55 million for police criminality against activists.

The US court system has found criminal police conduct – beatings, false arrests, other violence and felonies  –  at anti-war/ anti-G8/FTAA, WTO protests to be so flagrant that payouts to the victims of police illegality and violence have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

The payouts for unprovoked police violence and illegality, below, do not include what cities have paid their own lawyers to defend the police in court. These payouts do not include cases that are still in litigation, such as the class action suit of some 800 Chicagoans arrested for demonstrating against the start of the war on Iraq in 2003. Some examples:

Seattle paid $1 million to WTO protesters, cleared their arrest records seven years later, and paid another $800,000 to settle police misconduct cases.

Miami paid out $561,000, $180,000, and $17,000 because of the particularly ugly police violence during the protests against the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting.

Los Angeles paid over $5 million as a result of 11 lawsuits stemming from police conduct during the 2000 Democratic National Convention. The Los Angeles City Council agreed to pay $12.85 million to demonstrators and bystanders attacked by police at a 2007 May Day rally.

Washington DC paid $22 million in compensation to 1000 protests and bystanders for police mistreatment at two rallies in 2000 and 2002.  These involved a $13.7 million settlement following the 2000 IMF/World Bank protests. Protests against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in 2002 resulted in various lawsuits, netting $8.25 million, $1 million, and $200,000 for wrongful arrests. A 2002 detention of eight antiwar protesters also resulted in a settlement of $450,000.

Oakland paid over $2 million for injuries to 58 people from police dowels, bean bags and rubber pellets during an April 7, 2003 protest against Iraq.

New York City paid out $6.6 million in attorneys’ fees and $1.5 million in settlements after the 2004 Republican convention.  As typical of police violations of the law in these cases, of the 1,670 cases, over 90 percent ended with the charges dismissed or acquittals.
In 2008, New York City paid $2.7 million to end a lawsuit by 52 people caught in mass arrests during an April 7, 2003 protest against the Iraq war. The $2 million was only part of the bonfire of legal expenses, including the city’s five lawyers and appellate teams.

Minneapolis has paid out $175,000 out so far to victims of police violence and illegal behavior at the 2008 Republican National Committee protests.

The total amount these cities paid for police criminality was just over $55 million.

One article states, “prior to the 2008 Republican National Convention, the Republican National Committee offered $10 million in advance to cover lawsuits from police misconduct—acknowledging that, despite new laws passed specifically for the convention, the desired level of repression would require the authorities to break their own laws to the tune of millions of dollars.”

In other words, the RNC offered up to $10 million to the police to violate whatever laws necessary to ensure the legal protests at the RNC were disrupted and repressed.

The $55 million in fines were for what the press defined as “police misconduct.” Needless to say, if I commit an armed assault on a person in the street, beat a person with a club, fire rubber bullets or other “non-lethal” material at someone in the street, I would not be considered guilty of “citizen misconduct.” Nor would I expect my penalty to be a fine paid for by the government. I would be arrested, tried, and sent to prison for a number of years.

We wonder in all the cases listed above, if the number of police officers sentenced to prison might have been more than zero.

It seems if I am paid by the government to uphold the law, I am for some reason exempt from being charged for my premeditated armed attacks on those whose rights I am sworn to protect. One should expect those enforcing the law to be held to an even higher standard than all others, certainly not to be exempt from those standards.

That the government, not the guilty police officers, pays the fines for their violent assaults amounts to condoning willfully illegal violence by the police. And we taxpayers are put in the position of footing the bill for the fines for the police’s willful assault on our constitutional rights.

Now, in Chicago we already face the same police intimidation in organizing protests at the NATO and G8 summits here May 2012.  The Chicago Sun-Times declared July 15, “Battle lines between protesters and the police are already being drawn for the NATO and G-8 summits that Chicago will host next spring.” Needless to say, the organizers of the protests have no intention of doing battle; they only want the right to a (so far denied) permit to march.

Joe Iosbaker,[1] spokesperson for the United National Antiwar Committee, said “We want our marches and rallies to be things that people can bring their children to… We want everybody who wants to say something to these heads of state to be heard…We intend on having our rights respected — our rights to assemble, to speak and to march.”

Rather than grant a permit for our constitutional right to assembly, Chicago Police Superintendent Gary McCarthy said, “We have to train for mass arrests. We have to train 13,000 police officers in arrest procedures and containment procedures.”

So it seems once again the city police forces will systematically violate people’s right to assemble and dissent, later to be again found guilty of violent attacks on citizens, and we will again be footing the bill for police attacks on our democratic rights.

For more information see:

Fight Capitalism and Win Millions of Dollars in Prizes!

New FBI Raids: Millions More in Taxes, But Where’s the Threat?

Stansfield Smith belongs to the Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban 5, a long-time anti-war and solidarity activist, and is involved in organizing for the Chicago G8 and NATO Summit protests in May 2012. His daughter Sarah Smith is one of the 23 subpoenaed.


[1] Hand in hand with city police criminality against anti-war and anti-globalization protesters, the FBI searched September Joe Iosbaker’s Chicago home last September in an “investigation into activities concerning the material support of terrorism.”  Seven homes were raided, and 23 were subpoenaed by the FBI to appear before a grand jury in regards to this case. Almost one year after the first subpoenas, over 3 years since police infiltration into their anti-war organization, no charges have been filed against any of the 23, who rightly regard the raids and subpoenas are another effort to stifle opposition to U.S. wars. Immigrant rights activist Carlos Montes is the latest target of these attacks. See