New York City reached a settlement Wednesday to give nearly $17.9 million to hundreds of people who were arrested for protesting outside the 2004 Republican National Convention.
New York police officers arrested 1,800 people during the convention to re-nominate George W. Bush as thousands of people protesting the administration's policies descended on the city.
Those caught up in the arrests complained their constitutional rights had been violated, and that they had been held for hours in some cases in makeshift prisons.
The police department argued at the time that the arrests were necessary to keep order. They also said demonstrators had flooded into the streets.
The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) represented the protestors in two separate lawsuits against the city. The organization filed them in October 2004 for a group of 226 people who were arrested on a sidewalk near the World Trade Center site, and a group of almost 400 arrested near Manhattan’s Union Square.
“No lawful protester should ever be treated like a criminal in New York City, or anywhere else in the United States,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement.
“This historic settlement must serve as a reminder to New York City and government across the country that the right to protest is a fundamental pillar of a fair and functioning democracy. And it is the role of government and law enforcement to not only tolerate protest, but protect and defend it,” she said.
In Oct. 2012, a federal district court judge ruled the mass arrests were unconstitutional said and a settlement should be reached between the city and the plaintiffs.
The GOP convention took place at Madison Square Garden. Bush was not at the convention when the arrests took place.
Some of the plaintiffs in the NYCLU suits included Michael Schiller, who was recording a documentary for HBO at the time, and was held for at least 13 hours.