new york judge allows mass arrest lawsuit against police to proceed

by Tim Phillips

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff decided last week that roughly 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters could proceed with a class action lawsuit regarding their arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1, 2011. The decision was a victory for the arrestees and their attorneys at the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. Attorneys for the police had asked the judge to dismiss the suit.

Judge Rakoff’s opinion also echoed a sentiment expressed more than 40 years ago in a dissenting opinion by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Douglas, acknowledging the value of activism. People labeled “troublemakers,” Rakoff wrote, “have forced us to focus on problems we would prefer to downplay or ignore.” In the same vein, Justice Douglas’s dissent in Epton v. New York (1968) stated:

Society, like an ill person, often pretends it is well or tries to hide its sickness. From this perspective, First Amendment freedoms safeguard society from its own folly.