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In the aftermath of Sunday’s mostly peaceful protest on the eve of the Republican National Convention, legal observers gave the New York City Police Department high marks for handling the massive crowd but said they are concerned about the reaction to less-organized demonstrations in the next few days. Christopher Dunn, associate director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said he witnessed arrests outside the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square. The small group gathered was shouting, he said, but not blocking access to the hotel, where convention delegates are staying. He said the arrested group also included legal observers and reporters. “They’re showing very little tolerance for non-permit events,” said Dunn. “The police should have realized there’s going to be a lot of non-permit protests. This is going to be an issue throughout.” Dunn said the police response to the Times Square protests contrasted with the restrained manner they exhibited towards the main protest, which has been estimated at anywhere from 120,000 to 500,000 people. Dunn said he was particularly pleased that the police did not erect pens meant to keep demonstrators away from the sidewalks along the route. The Manhattan district attorney’s office said Monday afternoon that 531 complaints against arrested protesters had been drafted. Most were charged with disorderly conduct, arraigned — some after being held for up to 34 hours, according to the National Lawyers Guild — and released. A handful were charged with felonies, mostly assaults on police officers, said Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for the district attorney. Jeffrey Fogel, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the lawyer who represented United for Peace and Justice, the group that organized Sunday’s large protest, said the police generally handled themselves well and set the tone for a day of peaceful demonstrations. At the march, protester Marc Brammer, a volunteer legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild, also credited the police with good behavior. He contrasted Sunday’s march to the anti-war demonstration in February 2003 when, he said, “police charged people with horses” and tried to close Washington Square Park at 4 p.m. “The police really do determine whether something is peaceful or not,” he said. “It’s about allowing people a freedom of movement, a safety valve.” But Fogel also said he was concerned about where the police have chosen to assert themselves. He said he thought the police were being “overly sensitive to protecting delegates from harassment.” While the police clearly have a duty to protect delegates from physical assault, he said, verbal abuse aimed at delegates was not unexpected and should not trigger the same response. Given the tight security cordon around Madison Square Garden, he asked, “How else can protesters interact with delegates?” A large number of such interactions is expected today. A number of groups have called for the day to be one of non-violent civil disobedience. To the extent such groups attempt to interfere with delegates, Dunn said, arrests are to be expected. But he said it is important for the police to not overreact. Fogel agreed, citing the police department’s arrests of bicyclists blocking traffic on Friday night and on Sunday, when nets were deployed to catch riders. Though he said some of the cyclists had been provocative before, he said their infractions — blocking traffic and running red lights — seemed too petty to merit serious police attention. The New York Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers Guild both maintained a heavy presence during Sunday’s demonstration. Both groups said they would have hundreds of legal observers available to send to spontaneous protests throughout the week. At a press conference Monday, the Lawyers Guild accused the police department of targeting its legal observers, seven of whom were arrested. The group also complained about the lengthy detention for arrested protesters, some of whom it said have been held for 34 hours, and the lack of access to counsel during detention. Yetta Kurland, an attorney with the Lawyers Guild, said the police tactics seemed geared toward fighting terrorists or other national security threats, rather than a gathering of peaceful protesters. “These tactics don’t comport with what we know about New York City demonstrations,” she said. A spokesman with the police department said officers have been restrained and professional throughout. He also read a statement by Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne saying the largest factor in protesters’ lengthy detention has been their refusal to identify themselves. Elizabeth Stull contributed to this story.

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