by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition
In an earlier post, I had reported about a court ruling that allowed the plaintiffs in a New York City case, that asked to have long range acoustic devices considered “an excessive force,” to move forward with their case. Police officers in cities throughout the country have been using these “earsplitting devices” to control crowds for over a decade. It was noted that the first time New York City used LRADs as a deterrent occurred on Staten Island in 2014 to control protestors who marched to declare their outrage after a jury did not indict the officer who put Eric Garner in a chokehold that resulted in his death. The New York City plaintiffs were asking that LRADs not be used by police officers to control demonstrators and protestors.
Colin Moynihan reports in his New York Times article that the “New York City Police Department has agreed in a legal settlement to stop using the “shrill beeping.” In announcing the settlement, the New York City Law Department described it as being in the best interest of both parties–the plaintiffs and the New York City Police Department. Moving forward, the Police Department can still make voice announcements on LRADs at safe distances from the public but the painful “alert tone” has been banned. The Police Department also has to educate officers on how to use the device and report to the plaintiffs on the new training program. This decision makes the New York City’s police departments one of the first amongst large cities to restrict LRADs.
The suit also addressed the issue of whether in turning the LRADs toward protestors themselves, rather than simply deploying them to dispel the crowds, the demonstrators were also being deprived of their constitutional rights. The City tried to respond to this argument by saying that some demonstrators hurl things at police officers and, thus, the use of the LRADs was reasonable.
As I wrote earlier, this lawsuit did not only focus on the harmful effects–ringing in the ears, sinus pain, dizziness–that resulted from the use of these crowd dispersing LRADs, but also on the importance of allowing people to voice their opinions in groups that are for the most part peaceful.