1930 January 28

ACLU to Sue NYC Police Over Brutality, Fatal Shooting of Communist Party Member in Demonstration


In a confrontation at a Communist Party demonstration in New York City, the police shot and killed Steve Katovis, a Party member. ACLU Director Roger Baldwin on this day charged denial of “peaceful assemblages” by the police and promised to sue over Katovis’ death. The event was only one of many examples of systematic denial of freedom of speech and assembly for radical political groups and others by police departments in the 1920s and 1930s. Some police departments had special “Red Squads” to spy on Communist and other radical political groups.

The first national report on police misconduct was the 1931 Wickersham Commission report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, released on August 10, 1931, which found that the “Third Degree,” using brutal methods to gain confessions, was “widespread.”

Learn more: Frank J. Donner, Protectors of Privilege: Red Squads and Police Repression in Urban America (1990)

Learn more about the history of police misconduct: Samuel Walker, Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice, 2nd ed (1997)

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