Recently disclosed DNC insurance policy shows law enforcement’s contempt for protest

 Xelba Gutierrez leads a protest demanding that the Democratic National Convention reveal its sources of funding on Thursday, July 21, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pa. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Xelba Gutierrez leads a protest demanding that the Democratic National Convention reveal its sources of funding on Thursday, July 21, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pa. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

With much less fanfare than it received before the Democratic National Convention, the insurance policy protecting Philadelphia police from liability against a host of rights violations perpetrated against protesters was finally obtained last month by journalist Dustin Slaughter.

The $1.2 million insurance policy underwritten by Landmark American Insurance Company covered the Philadelphia Police Department for $5 million in case they were sued over excessive use of force or other rights violations.

Specifically, the policy protected the City of Philadelphia during DNC protests against claims of assault and battery, false arrest, detention or imprisonment, slander, libel, humiliation or mental anguish, wrongful entry, invasion of privacy, and malicious prosecution, as well as any civil rights violations covered under federal or state law.

While some are critical of these policies and believe they should be outlawed, they are all too common at National Special Security Events like the quadrennial political conventions.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“To me, this is profoundly offensive,” civil rights attorney Larry Krasner told NewsWorks’s Dana DiFilippo in June. “I don’t want my tax money to be spent so that law enforcement in this city have financial coverage so they can be deliberately indifferent to my rights.”

Similar policies were used not only in Philadelphia for the 2000 RNC, but also in St. Paul for the 2008 RNC, in Chicago for the 2012 NATO meetings, both Tampa and Charlotte for the 2012 RNC and DNC, respectively, and in Cleveland for the RNC this past July.

The current trend of insuring the police with supplemental policies like this began in Philadelphia 16 years ago when then-Police Commissioner John Timoney used the city as a laboratory to develop the contemporary policing model for controlling and stifling political dissent.

As I outline in my book examining the 2000 RNC, the use of insurance policies is just one of many tactics in a policing playbook replete with discriminatory and systematic abuse.

Social scientists such as Patrick Gillham and John Noakes have coined this policing model “strategic incapacitation” for both its deliberation and effect.

While disclosure of this year’s DNC insurance policy got little attention, it represents a clear example of the state’s contempt for free speech by protecting the police from any repercussions for engaging in abusive practices against protesters.

Fortunately for the Philadelphia, the insurance policy sat unused in a desk drawer, but the city’s refusal to disclose the policy before the convention was a disservice to the public, a clear attempt to avoid scrutiny, and of questionable legality.

Furthermore, the unique bubble of fewer arrests and less-than-typical police abuse at the RNC and DNC this year is certainly not indicative of how police routinely treat protesters. The scenes in Charlotte this past week against Black Lives Matter activists stand as an alarming example of this contempt.

The fact that such repressive and violent police tactics outlined in the recently disclosed DNC insurance policy are so widely accepted as to generate their own niche in the insurance industry should be cause for great concern. The contempt for free speech that these policies enable is far too great to tolerate and must be stopped in order for political protest to thrive.

Correction: A previous version of this op-ed stated that the city refused to reveal details of the policy before the Democratic National Convention and did not explain why. City Hall did release some details of the policy to reporters before the convention, but they were not universally reported on.

Kris Hermes is an activist, legal worker, and author of “Crashing the Party: Legacies and Lessons from the RNC 2000” (PM Press).

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal