From the moment Monday night when I arrive at Penn Station, below Madison Square Garden, I know things are a bit different in the big apple. As I enter the station I see the police at every doorway, entrance hallway, next to barricades and temporary dividers. They walk the halls in groups of two or more, or stand aside, row after row, cluster after cluster, everywhere and in every direction, law enforcement officers everywhere. It is as if there are more cops in Penn Station than civilians (and that's not counting the plain-clothes cops out there). But hey – they're great for directions, and man, am I lost! Unfortunately, not all the cops seem to agree on what to tell me, sometimes giving me contradictory instructions, but at last with their kind help I do make it to the subway and finally to my cousin's apartment. On the way, I get a subway map and a disposable camera, since I am a tourist you know… OK, perhaps more than just a tourist.
The next day, Tuesday, August 31, 2004, is to be a day of various protest rallies and marches by several different groups against the Republican National Convention. The one I am most interested in is the "War Resistors League" due to their belief in non-violent civil disobedience. The truth is, I am also angry. I had read more than one news article that reported how college students all over the country had been intimidated by the FBI, and possibly other law enforcement officials, in a blatant attempt to lower the number of protesters traveling to New York City during the Republican National Convention. Being that I'm not as easily intimidated as some younger people, along with having a relative in the city and the financial means to participate with ease, I decided to go for it.
Taking a cab down West Street to the West Village, I pass the Hudson River piers, which all appear to be lively and active businesses, except for one gray pier surrounded by police cars. I knew at once what it was, and realized I might be going there in a matter of hours. The cab drops me off at Bethune Street in the West Village. I'm there because at 10:00 A.M. the War Resisters League begins a training session for Civil Disobedience. The scenario is as follows: Everyone dresses in white to symbolize mourning for the dead, and we will march in silence in respect for the dead. We meet at the site of the World Trade Center at 3pm. March – on the sidewalk – at 4pm down to Fulton Street and go north on Broadway. Meet friends and other marchers at Union Square around 5-6pm. After 6pm, we continue up Broadway as close as we can to Madison Square Garden. At some point, we all know that the police will block us. At that time we shall perform our "Die-In", symbolically representing the tens of thousands murdered through the horrors of unjustified war by the Bush Administration. The "Die-In" consists of falling down – in the middle of the street, and playing dead until the police remove us.
Our most likely charges are disorderly conduct or something like this, which should be no more than a misdemeanor and a small fine of several hundred dollars, if that much. We are also warned about harsh conditions at the Hudson River Pier detention center, and that we should bring an extra sweater or jacket to protect our ourselves from the grimy floors. We also need a partner, so that's when I meet Nick who also needs a partner. During question-and-answer time, I ask, "Where do I get a white pair of pants in less than two hours?" Everyone laughs, and says my white shirt will be fine. I am told not to bring any valuables and have a good meal before starting, so after making a protest sign and leaving it with Frieda, I walk out into the Village on a beautiful sunny day. Before reaching the train station, I notice more than a dozen Hasidic Jews, whom I have always thought looked just plain weird. I mean, come on! What is with the long beards in these strange curly-cues? In just two days, my attitude about this ethnic group would change dramatically.
I return to my cousin's home, drop off my valuables, and then have a wonderful late lunch at an Italian restaurant. Fortifying my nerve with two glasses of red wine, I pocket my table napkin and take the subway to the site of the former World Trade Center.
The World Trade Center today is not much to look at: a fence with some black and white photos surrounding a large gap in the city. I find Frieda, but she gave my poster to Rose, who is now lost in the crowd of hundreds of people around us. Giving up, I find Nick, my partner, and we stand two-by-two as required for the sidewalk march. But unfortunately, nobody goes anywhere. We stand aside Church Street, melting in the humidity and baking in the sun at temperatures nearing ninety degrees Fahrenheit. I plaster on some sunscreen and share it with a few other marchers.
Suddenly we hear that more than one-hundred*** protesters at the front of the march have already been arrested. Already? That didn't take long!
*** It was actually more than 400! Here's a video link about it: RNC 2004: 400 Detained in Massive Arrests
The story I hear is that the police gave them the OK to start the march onto Fulton Street, and then arrested them after they crossed Church Street. This pattern of the police disrupting and arresting peaceful protesters would continue all day, but luckily there was no violence, partly due to our civil disobedience training, but also probably due to the general chaos of the situation. Word then reaches us that we are going to do the DIE-IN right here, and that we DIE-INs must move up to the front of the line. Nick and I walk up quickly to the front and are greeted with another mission – we are crossing Fulton and walking straight up Church Street, beginning the march in a different route than originally planned. At first, I wonder how we are allowed to get away with this while about 100 members of our group are being arrested right across the street, but then again, a pattern will emerge here too. Once the police are sidetracked into dozens and dozens of arrests, they may no longer have the manpower to move quickly, and the protest marchers can alter plans, move and adapt.
It also helps to have "scouts". Communications between scouts and leaders inform marchers to stay east of Union Square, our mid-way regrouping point, which is now reportedly in chaos with mass arrests and barricades. (I'll find out about those stories later.)
The protest march continues and we are eventually joined by others from behind and others from ahead of us. We angle over to West Broadway, around the east side of Washington Square, and then up 5th Avenue with no police anywhere in site. Our luck ends once we reach Broadway and angle left, northwest, toward Madison Square Garden. Police suddenly appear in cars, vans, bicycles and scooters, shadowing us on the sidewalk as we move from 23rd Street up to 24th.
Suddenly, we are told to move to the front of the line, so Nick and I rush forward. I don't mind because this is supposed to be a silent, solemn march to honor the dead, and there are some very loud people in the back chanting various protest ditties, along with loudly reciting bits of the U.S. Constitution. Don't they know this is supposed to be a silent march? Passing 27th Street we hear that the DIE-IN will happen at any moment, and be prepared to dash out into the street. Personally, I can not believe we are so close to Madison Square Garden, which is less than five blocks away.
Approaching 28th Street, the march stops. "This is it! Die everyone!" We all run into the street, which the police have somehow managed to blockade so that it is completely free of commercial traffic and we will come to no harm. I am very impressed with the courtesy the New York City Police Department has given us as I lie down on my back. Perhaps they will really live up to the billing "New York's Finest". I have no reason to think otherwise… at least not at this point. I feel warm air and the hot, gritty pavement of Broadway as I look up into the sunny sky and see the FUJIFILM blimp hovering overhead, along with helicopters, police with walkie-talkies, and crowds of well-wishers clapping and cheering loudly in our support all around us. It was a beautiful, poetic spectacle that gave a warm glow to us all, and best yet, the cops weren't doing anything!
Minutes pass as the crowd continues to cheer and take pictures at us, while I hear a reporter talking to one of us nearby. A group of protesters – the ones that were annoying me at the back of the line before – warm my heart to the full now. Chanting, "ARREST GEORGE BUSH! ARREST GEORGE BUSH! ARREST GEORGE BUSH!" over and over again. The police are clearly more irritated with them than us, as we are lying silently on the ground doing nothing. The police use megaphones and instruct the crowd to disburse, as they are having an unlawful demonstration and must get off of the street. The protesters fearlessly chant back, with one loud woman always first, followed by the crowd: "WHOSE STREET? OUR STREET! WHOSE STREET? OUR STREET! WHOSE STREET? OUR STREET!" They also recite the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution:
CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW!
CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW!
RESPECTING AN ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION!
RESPECTING AN ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION!
OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF!
OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF!
OR ABRIDGING THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH!
OR ABRIDGING THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH!
OR OF THE PRESS!
OR OF THE PRESS!
OR THE RIGHT OF PEOPLE PEACEABLY TO ASSEMBLE!
OR THE RIGHT OF PEOPLE PEACEABLY TO ASSEMBLE!
AND TO PETITION THE GOVERNMENT!
AND TO PETITION THE GOVERNMENT!
FOR A REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES!
FOR A REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES!!!
On occasion, I remove my little disposable camera and take a picture or two, and slip it back into my pocket. Since I am lying on my back, I have no idea what most of the pictures may look like, but I am looking forward to developing them one day. But I'm not the only one interested in photography – I'm somewhat surprised to briefly open my "dead" eyes to see the police using digital video cameras to record movies of us all, and close-ups of our faces, as we lie on the ground. My only anonymity rests with closed eyes and a green hat.
On and off, I open my eyes. It's getting dark out. At first, with eyes closed, I thought the cops had turned on a huge florescent light down on us, but soon I realize that I'm looking up at a streetlamp, which has automatically turned itself on. A daylight scene of bright euphoria has turned into an eerie, quieter scene, as we notice our fan club has quieted down – they either left, or are getting arrested on the sidewalk nearby. However, flashbulbs keep popping and I soon hear a woman from a small newspaper interview one of my fellow dead right next to me, and the night air begins to cool us all down. "Nick" I ask my DIE-IN partner. "I was going to not cooperate and have them carry me, but we've had so much press, and we've been here so long… and the cops have been pretty damn nice. I think I'm going to get up when they ask me to." Nick nods his head. "Yeah, me too."
"Are you ready to sit up? How's your back?" I open my eyes and see an officer kneeling beside me. I sit up and say, "I'm fine. Am I under arrest officer?" "Yes," he replies. "Thank you!" (I remembered this from my training session earlier today also. Why not be nice and smile. Gandhi would be proud.)
I, along with everyone else, am handcuffed one-by-one in rather uncomfortable, white-plastic industrial tie-wrap things. All of our possessions are bagged, but they leave my drivers license, money and food. I ask them if I can keep my book: An Autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi. I explain that it's an extremely non-violent book, but that doesn't seem to interest them – it gets bagged up with everything else.
I am loaded into the back of a stuffy police van, or paddy wagon, as I like to call them. On the right side, a plastic rope is holding back a large crowd and a reporter asks as I get in, "Can I have you name and a brief statement?" I reply, "I'm George Bush. They finally got me." (OK, I didn't really say that. I smiled and said nothing. It's one of those five minutes later "Damn it! I should have said that!" moments.)
As we sit in the back of the van, we get our first whiff of NYPD efficiency in action. "How many of you in there?" "1… 2… 3… That's only nine. Where's number ten?" For the next forty-five minutes, all of the arresting officers repeatedly come back and make us turn around to find out who arrested whom. Finally, one of the protesters (our group, not the cops) realizes that they lost track of an old guy that had respiratory problems and had to be removed and put into the air-conditioned police bus behind us. This is the beginning of a very regular pattern with the NYPD: Figuring out who is where.
Looking out of the back of the open doors of the paddy wagon, I can see our sidewalk chorus-line of noisy protesters hand-cuffed and waiting for the inevitable, while other officers arrest more DIE-INs still lying on the ground, while many others are still lying there waiting their turn. The scene is utterly beautiful and Gandhiesque – almost everyone wearing white, all non-violent and cooperative, a muggy August night with the buildings of Broadway, including the Empire State building, just a few blocks away as a backdrop.
After a short van ride, we walk out and into a vast, long pier with a stinking industrial smell of exhaust fumes and diesel fuel. This is the interior of the infamous Pier 57 Detention Center of the Hudson River I saw this morning. My fellow arrestees all refer to it as "GITMO", the slang term for our Military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where more than a hundred foreign prisoners have been detained without trial for several years now under the Bush Administration. We line up into two very long lines, with hundreds of people. I can't help but notice that almost all of the protesters appear to be bland, normal-looking, white, middle-class Americans. Not many blacks, latinos or asians, or people with weird hair, tattoos or other distinguishing features that you might not lump in with a typical 'Leave it to Beaver' episode. While here our arresting police officers are instructed to take new polaroid photographs of us, even though that was already done at the arrest scene. Why, I don't know – more NYPD efficiency perhaps. We all smile to the camera again, and I'm somewhat amazed at the pile of polaroid camera film stacked in boxes nearby, and the empty polaroid film packages lying all around our feet. We even walk on pictures that nobody wanted.
Bus after bus arrives, and when the high-pitched "Wooooo!" sound explodes from dozens of people, we all look up and see women, female prisoners, handcuffed and leaving the bus. Soon, we notice women in line across from us. We are all mixed together at this point. There are very few things as sad as seeing a woman incarcerated, dirty and humiliated. But when two-hundred guys start whistling and yelling "Wooooo!", they don't seem so sad anymore.
While in this line, I can see a huge machine with enormous carwash brushes – actually, we walk right through it. After a quick examination, it's obviously a bus/tractor-trailer car wash. It does make sense. That would account for the smell… and the sticky, black tar that makes up the floor. Atop the machine is some kind of warning sign saying something about all personnel in this area must wear safety goggles, and some other things that involve health risks.
After two hours in this line that never seems to end, we finally reach the "check-in" area. Accompanied by our arresting officer, busily standing next to us for two hours doing basically nothing, we get our handcuffs cut off. Oh! What a feeling! Those plastic things were awful. Another officer goes through my pockets and shouts at my arresting officer, "Food! This has got to go!" My arresting officer does not appear to know that this would happen, and apologizes while removing my explosive peanuts, anthrax-laden apple and radioactive oatmeal cookies. (Ha!)
The layout of the Pier 57 detention center is spartan and simple. The central section is for the police, who have tables and chairs to work on the processing. Along the sides and in the back are nothing but steel fences creating dozens of lockup pens for the arrestees. Within these lockup areas, the portable toilets and steel fences are brand new, which is great (and don't forget the sparkling shiny new razor-wire on top of the fences!), but the benches bolted into the floor are a bit grungy, and worst of all: THE FLOOR. It's as if we are walking on top of an open-faced Australian vegemite sandwich, and if you had a butter knife you could probably cut an eighth of an inch down into the grimy, oil-caked floor. At least it's fairly dry and packed down hard, and obviously not edible… Not that I would really consider vegemite edible in the first place.
After I loose my personal food, I go through a radar detector, collect my few remaining items – drivers license and money – and I am taken to an approximate 20' by 25' holding pen with at least thirty-to-forty other guys. Determined not to soil my clothes with whatever is on this floor, I spread the Italian restaurant table napkin out, squat down and sit on it on the floor in a corner of the pen. I wait around two hours and then my name is called. My arresting office returns and instructs me to do the "hands-behind-your-back" thing, as we completely redo all of my possessions, taking them all out of the bag, sorting them on a table and putting them into a new bag. "You don't wanna keep this, do you?" asks the officer behind the table pointing at my sunscreen. "Why not?" "Because it will get crushed and the stuff will ruin everything else you have in here." Hmmm… so much for the safeness of your possessions when checked into the NYPD Property Clerk. But then I notice something odd – and again, it involved cameras. They don't put my disposable camera into the same bag as my other possessions. In fact, it gets a completely different plastic bag and Property Clerk ticket. I wonder why they do that?
Once that's done, my arresting officer takes me to lockup pen A1, the front lockup cellblock closest to the original line where we entered GITMO at. Bus after bus keeps pouring in new arrestees… Hours pass. A battle of willpower begins: After being awake14 to 20 hours on average for the arrestees (most are all awake 8-12 hours before their arrests to begin with), people need to sleep. But sleep on this oily, grimy, toxic waste-like floor? Well, I did bring that Italian restaurant table napkin, but that's not very big. It's been many hours now and I want to sleep, but I pace instead. It's now a dog-eat-dog situation for the five bolted down benches. If I can just outlast them…. I inform Gary that the lines of new detainees have finally stopped and we are now all officially "checked in" at Pier 57. He's got a watch – it's 2:45 A.M. early Wednesday morning. Surely it can't be much longer for us to move to the next stage, right?
I talk to one of the guys that says he was from the DIE-IN march, but I wasn't going to die – he was just there to support the marchers and watch, but "before it started they arrested everybody down by the Trade Center." "How did it happen?" I ask. "We just crossed the street, walked down the sidewalk, stopped, and they arrested me." I then let him know that I was in the DIE-IN, and that we did make it. "What, you mean, you did it? How? There were cops everywhere, and up at Union Square too." I explain that they didn't get everybody by the WTC, and we took an alternate route east avoiding everything, and how we laid down on Broadway near 28th Street for well over an hour. The guy is beaming now and says, "All right man! That's great!" I then ask him, "So let me get this right. You just walked across the street, holding a sign, and got arrested on the sidewalk, just standing there?" "Yeah. We all were." I begin to realize that many people around me did not plan on getting arrested as I had. Most of them were just walking around holding a sign. Some weren't even holding signs. Some weren't even in the protests, they were just innocent bystanders. I will learn later that Mayor Bloomberg refused to grant parade permits to any of the A31 marches, giving the cops the right to arrest any group of more than twenty people and charging them with "Parading without a Permit." (Actually, I will find out later that you do not even need a permit to march on the sidewalk, as long as you don’t block other pedestrians. So the truth is, 90% of the people arrested this day were arrested illegally – they had not even committed a violation a serious as a parking ticket!)
My arresting officer comes by with a paper called a "Desk Arraignment Ticket" for me to sign that is asking all kinds of personal information, including my marital status, home telephone, employer, etc. I refuse to answer, as I remember from my Civil Disobedience Training that all I have to give is my name, address and show an ID. Later, a fellow arrestee tells me that if you sign it, you don't even have to be arraigned by a judge, but you just get a rubber stamp letting you out and agreeing to be arraigned later. I wonder, if that's the fast-track out of here, and perhaps I should have signed it? I am from out of state though – I might not be eligible if I am a flight risk, which I'm not. I can avoid to pay the fine, which I'd rather do and be done with this. But when you're in jail, it's very hard to know what to do. The police sure don't want you to know, and before arraignment, you can't see a lawyer. Usually, that doesn't take long, but it looks like they arrested more than a thousand people on one night here, so I wouldn't be surprised to see this drag on a lot longer. This DAT issue will come back to haunt and confuse me for the next 30 hours.
At last someone else gives up on the bench and stands up by the fence. I grab onto the empty spot and stretch out, not realizing that the underside is just as filthy and slimy as the floor. My fingers are black now, but my clothes and the rest of me are fairly clean, so I stake my claim and nap for an hour or two using the napkin folded up as pillow, and covering my eyes with my baseball hat. But not only do the protesters nap – I can see many cops sleeping in their chairs just across from us, bored to death.
Just after dawn we awake to movement and more confusion, cheering and clapping, but we don't know why. The officers open our pen and take us all out. As we walk by other pens, the men – and women – in their pens see us and shout and clap as we walk by. At the back of the pier, we enter one huge holding area with many other detainees. Everyone there, and behind us in the pens we passed, is clapping in rhythm: 1-2-3 (pause), 1-2-3 (pause), 1-2-3 (pause)… The sound is comparable to being in football stadium cheering for your team. Inside the huge pen, everyone is sitting down in neat rows: one across the back, two more across the left and right side, and then several coming out from the back, parallel with the sides, but room in between for people to walk. We join one of these interior rows and are instructed to sit down. While the clapping continues, I remove my somewhat filthy Italian restaurant napkin and sit on it once again.
More prisoners arrive. Looking at the average per row, we end up with around 500 men in the large pen. When it finally fills up, and the last of the arrestees are seated, the clapping becomes almost deafening. All during this time a few officers are walking around kicking and pushing a gray tub full of sandwiches up and down the line. I take some kind of baloney sandwich thing, which Nick won't touch. I don't blame him – it was pretty awful. Towards the back of the pen, Steve stands up. Soon others stand with him. I get up too. So does Nick. More rise. Soon, almost everyone is standing and clapping, cheering and yelling, and a new chant begins in rhythm with the 123 clap: "LAW-AW-SUIT! LAW-AW-SUIT! LAW-AW-SUIT!"
Ten minutes of this elapse as more police officers walk in and tell us to sit down, telling us the Chief needs to talk to us and he can't do it if we are all standing up and making noise. Finally, everyone starts to sit down again. The Chief enters the pen and starts talking. "I told you guys to listen to me, and do what I ask. I'm trying to do my best here. I bring you food, water and access to bathrooms. I'm trying to process you as fast as we can, but you have to give me respect back as I am trying to give you." His kind offer is followed by a noisy hard-core group of protesters, who start clapping and shouting out, "NO RE-SPECT! NO RE-SPECT! NO RE-SPECT!" Nick and I aren't very happy about this chant so we don't join in, but hundreds of other do. After that, the hard-core protesters chant:
IS THIS WHAT GUANTANAMO LOOKS LIKE?
THIS IS WHAT GUANTANAMO LOOKS LIKE!
…over and over again. As we settle down to be quiet, more hours pass – it's been about 12 hours since my arrest, people are a bit agitated, lying around in the filth, lining up for bathrooms. Breaking the depressing silence for a moment we hear dozens of cheerful, high-pitched voices chant, "LET THE BOYS GO! LET THE BOYS GO! LET THE BOYS GO!" Everyone smiles realizing our female fellow detainees are just not going to give up either, many going to the front of the fence to see them, both the left and right of us ahead, chanting and clapping. After ten minutes, we respond in kind, but it's a bit louder: "LET THE GIRLS GO! LET THE GIRLS GO! LET THE GIRLS GO!"
Hours pass, moving into late morning Wednesday, more than 12 hours after our arrests. It's now in this large pen that various things are going on, with many sleeping on the floor. (There are no benches in the huge pen, so I force myself to stay upright or standing to avoid the filthy floor.) I wonder to the side where some spontaneous artistic prisoner has torn apart lots of paper cups into a design on the oil-caked floor. It reads,
HAS NO CAGE
Walking back, I see they have opened up the bathrooms in the back section too, so I have my first bowel movement in about 20 hours. At least the portable toilets are new, and there is some privacy. Not far down the steel fence in the back is a big sign on the wall that says "Property Clerk". Here I can see all of the plastic bags with our stuff in them, labeled, and now getting boxed. Steve joins me and I point out to him what they are doing. "They're taking those empty ones – see, that one has 'Queens Borough something' written on it, and then they put fresh masking tape over it. Then they write 'RNC something' on the ones they are putting our stuff in." Steve stops and says "RNC, yes, I see it. The cops are calling this the Republican National Convention Detention Center!" I laugh and say, "All right! We're being jailed by Republicans! How symbolic." (I was to find out later that this was more than symbolic: The Republican Party is the organization that leased Pier 57 and gave it to the NYPD for us convention arrestees. The truth is – we are literally all political prisoners.)
Another two hours pass, and finally the cops start calling out names. One by one, a guy gets to leave and get re-handcuffed for another trip to who-knows-where. In the front, where the entrance is, the police have set up folding tables and are busily putting together paperwork, by hand. No computers are anywhere around – it's like we are being processed in 1855 or something. Cops are pointing and grabbing and handing and pushing little arrest packets and papers around, rearranging them and stacking them here and there. Although it appears to be a bit amusing, my estimation of the quality of this process has fallen considerably. Why isn't all of this run through computerized systems? Perhaps the union doesn't want to loose any of these tiresome low-paying administrative jobs that would reduce the size of the police force? Or perhaps there is a methodical pattern of purposeful delay in our processing, to keep us off the streets as long as possible?
Finally, my name comes up. I get re-cuffed and walk down the opposite side of the room where I had been, looking straight past a bunch of cells with prisoners on the right… all of them women! Again, there they are, some scantily clad, all filthy and grimy after who knows how many hours locked up for holding a sign on a public street for the most part. They clap and cheer in support as we leave. The camaraderie between everyone, all joined in a shared cause of peace and justice, is at times emotionally overwhelming in such harsh conditions. These are visions and memories I will hold dear for the rest of my life.
Eventually we all climb into an old bus with metal cages around the seats. Of course, wearing handcuffs behind your back in a small, caged bus seat is not very comfortable. In fact, it's a bit of a struggle to keep the blood circulation to your hands going, but at least we get outside and see the sunshine! Another beautiful day in New York City. We drive down West Street to the Criminal Courts Building in Lower Manhattan, and as I have a window on the left side of the bus, we are all comforted by the scene outside: Dozens of people, cheering and waving and showing peace signs to us. Not just protesters and supporters in the park, but regular-looking people on pay phones, wearing jackets and ties going to work or on their lunch-break around Centre Street and Federal Plaza. But our visions of happy supporters didn't last long. Crossing Centre Street and entering the Lower Manhattan City Court Building, the bus parked and we were walked into a building and up three flights of stairs. Into another holding cell, we waited and were finally brought out, un-cuffed (oh, that feels so good!) and sent to another cell. Thinking we were finally getting somewhere, everyone crowded into a room with other prisoners, and the stories began.
"Pictures. I'm takin' pictures of the protesters. Now I'm in jail?" said one guy there. "I did the same thing man. I was at a restaurant with my girlfriend. We see the protesters come up, I stand up cause were at a table outside, take some pictures, and now we’re in jail." This pattern of 'cameras' comes to my mind again. Haven't I heard about this before? And why did the Property Control process put my disposable camera into a separate bag than all of my other belongings? Hmm…
We all realize, after a few hours, that nothing is happening. Several people try to sleep, but that makes it quite hard for people to walk, so only the privileged (or squeezing in between) eight or ten can actually sleep, while the rest of us, at least twenty or thirty, have to sit or stand, hour after hour after hour. After several hours, I find a spot and try to sleep. For me, it's not a matter of being nice. My 14 hour stay at GITMO left me with almost no sleep, as I refused to let my clothing touch the floor of that rat-infested, cockroach-laden, greasy-oil-caked, diesel-fuel soaked floor of semi-hardened toxic waste! But now, at Central lock-up, the floors are much cleaner – tile floors that are obviously periodically washed. I found a spot, lowered my baseball hat across my eyes, and went to sleep as soon as possible.
Of course, sleeping on a hard floor, with bright fluorescent lights overhead, while feet walking around you and sometimes brush up against you, along with cops and arrestees talking and/or yelling at one another, the concept of sleeping becomes a serious issue. Some guys can sleep through anything. I listen in envy as I hear a guy next to me snoring. "How can he do that?" I think to myself. I try and try, but barely an hour or so of sleep is all I can muster. I am simply not a heavy sleeper, and if I am uncomfortable, I have a very hard time getting there. In fact, my ability to sleep even for an hour or two is an accomplishment – It means I must be exhausted to sleep through this chaos all around me!
Late Wednesday afternoon, I realize that this cell has a unique feature that the GITMO ones did not: limited access to a telephone. Just outside, on the left side, is a telephone, and a cop with the phone has a clipboard and he is handing it to inmates and saying "Five minutes!" after he dials in the number they want. It's the "one telephone call" regulation thing, and everyone is interested. Of course, being a guy from out of state, it's not that convenient for me, as it can only call a local number unless you have phone card. I've saved my number from the National Lawyers Guild – they were present on our march and DIE-IN, and are the most knowledgeable about our situation. However, I'm sure my cousin is worried about me, and I've got her number written in pen-ink on my left arm, and I'm glad to see that I can still read it. I finally get my chance and call. My cousin's secretary answers. I tell her "don't put me on hold, don't hang up, get a piece of paper and a pen and start writing this message down." She instantly agrees as my cousin told me that she would inform this secretary about my possible call coming in. "Tell her that I'm fine, but she should call the National Lawyers Guild, at such-and-such telephone number, in my behalf to let them know I am here." As I talk to her, I notice a matter of giddy excitement in her voice at times, almost in awe of the situation. The secretary gets it all down, reconfirming a few things, and I thank her and hang up. I feel much better now. It's interesting to note that the attitude of most of the police, our only physical contact with the outside world, appears to be so diametrically opposed to everyone else we see, meet or talk to on the telephone. Not to mention those cheerful, waving supporters outside of the Lower Manhattan City Court Building.
As can be expected, emotions go up and down in a swing that is very unnerving as I find a new spot to sleep. I concentrate on the moment and think, "This will pass. It will all be over soon. Just relax. Don't get angry or upset. That won't accomplish anything. Just relax, sleep, laugh, talk, anything. It's like the artist wrote back at GITMO, 'The Spirit Has No Cage.' And the positive spirits of fellow protesters around me are all the same. Talk of politics, unlawful arrest, abusive officers, go on and on.” We had one guy," says Jason, a fairly young, average looking white kid in his twenties. "He was maybe seventeen or something, and he was crying and screaming in pain in the police van when we were there at the arrest site. They sprayed his face with pepper spray, and a bit of it got caught inside his contact lens. Since we are all handcuffed nobody can do anything for him. We tell the cops, and they laugh at us, shut the doors, and turn on the heat. It's fucking August, and they turn on the fucking heat!" I am having a hard time believing the police could be so cruel, especially after the polite treatment they gave us DIE-IN protesters on Broadway and 28th Street… but again, a pattern of stories begins to emerge, from one guy to the next. Of course, I can't say I had an unlawful arrest. I was part of the DIE-IN on Broadway at the intersection of 28th Street.
"You were there? It went through!"
I find out that this is another guy from the beginning of our march, and was arrested on Fulton Street right near the WTC. "What happened to you?" I ask, wanting to hear the story.
"We were all at the front of the march, lined up like the cops wanted, and they told us it was OK to cross the street, so we did. We got across Church Street, and almost immediately we were all under arrest."
"That was it? Just walking across the street?"
"Yeah. They just arrested us right there. They turned me around, put some cuffs on me, and walked me into a police bus."
"For just walking across the street with a sigh?"
"No, I didn't have a sign dude, but yeah, they arrested me right there."
"Were you guys yelling or anything?"
"No. Everyone was too nervous with all the cops around. We were just trying to cooperate and start the march."
"So you got arrested for walking down a public sidewalk?"
"That's nuts dude."
"Tell me about it."
For some reason, nobody ever seems to leave our cramped little holding cell outside of the booking area at the City Jail of the Lower Manhattan Court Building. (I will later read how real criminals, such as real robbers, were arraigned in 10 hours while we political protesters were all waiting 40 to 50 hours for arraignment. See the New York Times, September 3, 2004, page P8. Yet, another "pattern" that develops.) "LET US OUT! LET US OUT! LET US OUT!" we chant with other cells that spontaneously start yelling. One of the arresting officers is there, and explains that he only has paperwork completed for two of his five arrestees, and that he's still waiting on the paperwork for the other three, and he's been up just as long as we have waiting to do this. (Another guy tells me you can never believe what the cops tell you, but I'm not that cynical… yet.)
There's a broken fan that is across the hall from us, and as the cell we are in has no windows, no air-conditioning, and it's hot and humid, and there is almost no air circulation, the broken fan is a source of annoyance. The cops turn the thing on across the aisle from us to blow a breeze our way, but it batters against the metal frame, making a deafening noise that stops the whole attempt as they open it up and work on the adjustments.
Another cop tells us that they can't process our paperwork because the photocopier across from us is broken. They say they've called for maintenance to fix it, but meanwhile, no paperwork is done, and about fifteen cops are sitting outside of us, doing basically nothing. You might think that they want to go home after 20-24 hours with us? Doesn't anyone have the initiative to make a quick trip down the copier on the next floor? Or even over to a Kinko's across the street? The excuse is as paper-thin as the bullshit they are throwing at us. This is not Antarctica – this is fucking New York City, land of one billion copiers at least. But no, we sit and wait with motionless cops that don't seem to be in a hurry to do much of anything.
The heat, motionlessness, humidity, and has effectively stifled the air with human sweat and body odors, to the point that we all feel like farm animals. I lay on my back with my baseball cap over my face trying to sleep as I hear someone near me make the very convincing sound of a cow. "Mooooo. Moooooo." Spontaneously, others start in, along with me. "Moo. Mooo." "MMMoooooooo!" There was one guy that could do an excellent sheep imitation. "Ba-ha-ha-ha-ha-heh! Ba-ha-ha-ha-ha-heh!" Mixed with the moos, it sounded very convincing, and soon everyone began joining in, including lockup cells to our left and right. Eventually, we had monkeys, birds, pigs, horses, ducks, I don't know what all else, but the cacophony of ridiculous sounds reached a brilliant crescendo after15 minutes to the point that both we and the cops were all laughing our heads off! Somebody should have tape-recorded that. I am not kidding.
The food, as always, is between bland and awful. I am not hungry and do not feel like eating a box of dry sugar-coated corn flakes when that went around, nor did I eat any of the sandwiches, all cheese and mystery bologna, which the cops later tried to tell us was soy (vegetarian), which nobody believed. They do finally give out peaches, and I ate my first whole piece of fruit during my stay, which was quite edible, although a bit overripe. However, one guy soon goes to the toilet and vomits for about ten minutes, heaving his guts empty. We've been locked up around twenty-four hours now. Was he sick before this started, or was it something he ate? Or something else?
Later Wednesday night, after we realize we've passed the 24-hour arraignment deadline, the cops tell us that "Arraignment is in 24 hours, unless extenuating circumstances, which means that we really have you up to 72 hours." As many of the guys there knew, New York State law requires that all arrestees be given Arraignment (meeting before a judge) to give a plea and have the opportunity to post bail within 24 hours of arrest. It is now apparent that our large group may be too overwhelming for them… or perhaps something else is going on? A group of prisoners in our cell decide to have a meeting about our situation. Some have been on the telephone with the National Lawyers Guild. It appears that some of the leaders are going to be given felonies (for leading peaceful protest marches?) and that we may be here for days since they appear to have no interest in New York State Law regarding 24-hour arraignment (habeas corpus).
HABEAS CORPUS: "The right of a citizen to obtain a writ of habeas corpus as a protection against illegal imprisonment." "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it – US Constitution."
At the time, I had no idea the importance of those two little obscure Latin words, but my education would soon come. Meanwhile, the meeting goes on. We learn that some of the organizers are to be charged with felonies, and it is decided we will have a hunger strike to support them, and inform the NLG about it via the next person that gets a telephone call. Of course, arguing about where people would sleep, sectioning off the bathroom area, and cleaning up the floor, it also began to sound like we were creating a new mini-governmental institution, but what the hell, it represents us, and that's better than nothing. During the meeting, I sit away, against a wall so I can't even see anyone talking, since I just want to sleep. From the side where I am I can see outside to where the cops are. I noticed one cop standing and leaning forward toward the metal fence listening intently to our discussions. I didn't think much of it at the time, but when the group finally formed and we made the decision to start the hunger strike, suddenly names were called off. Various guys left the room, lots of clapping and more cheering, and we had more and more space to sleep on the floor. Our interest in the hunger strike faded away as we can now stretch out and get some sleep, with the hope of getting out soon. I lay on the floor again thinking we are finally getting somewhere when the door opens and instead of exodus, more guys walk in. At first it's just discouraging, bit then I am just angry. Within an hour we have just as many guys as we had in there before, and the other guys say they came from the cell next to us. They didn't know why they were called out and moved, it just happened, a seemingly random movement of prisoners between cells. It slowly dawned on me what had happened: the cops played musical prisoners, giving us hope things would change for the better, while at the same time breaking up the bonding of the groups of prisoners in the various cells. At least that's my theory, but looking back on it, I'd bet the lot on a roulette wheel in Vegas that was the strategy.
As you can see, my original impression of the helpful, friendly police was slowly falling into doubt, skepticism and downright contempt. It was becoming hard to believe that so many delays were due to accidents, missing paperwork, broken copiers, bizarre incompetence, or whatever. A pattern of delay, along with bait-and-switch, was developing. Although the police are an effective and efficient law enforcement group with high ideals to uphold, they are also tainted by their political masters, who at this time happened to be Mayor Bloomberg (a Republican mayor in a city with five times more Democrats), along with a Republican Police Chief. It becomes more and more obvious that delay is being used as a tactic against the protesters, many of which were totally innocent bystanders.
However, the movement of prisoners in and out gives me a chance to meet more fellow prisoners. "I was at Union Square and we were marching down the street. The cops said to get on the sidewalk. We got on the sidewalk. Then the cops came arrested everybody."
"For just standing on the sidewalk?" I asked.
"Yeah. This whole thing is just bullshit to get us all off the streets."
"It's already past 24 hours, and they say we might be here up to 72 hours now," I added.
"Makes sense. That would put us all out on Friday, past the last day of the Convention."
It does make sense. It makes crystal clear fucking sense. We are being delayed to keep us out of the political theater of New York City, and keep those cameras focused on the Republican National Convention and away from the thousands and thousands of protesters that clearly hate them. And almost all of the cameras that had a chance to take pictures of the protesters and their arrests were now in the hands of the police, since they had busted anyone nearby with a camera, regardless of whether or not they were even in the protest. I met another guy that was there because he had a camera. "I was taking a picture of my friends holding signs, and they just arrested me."
"I wasn't even in the protest," said another guy. "I was going home from work and thought I'd use my new digital camera."
"Well I was protesting," said another guy. "We walked all the way up Broadway, and saw the cops and turned around. When we got back to Union Square, we were trying to unite with the guys we left behind, and then the cops came in from everywhere."
"And you got arrested for just walking around?"
"Yeah. Nobody is stupid enough to fight with cops. That was the sixties. People don't have a chance against those guys now – it's suicide. But I was pissed off. I sat on the ground and wouldn't move. They had to carry me. I've been calling them fucking assholes ever since, because they are fucking assholes."
A bit more attitude than I wanted, being a follower of Gandhi and King, but it's not surprising. Not everyone, OK, very few protesters are aware of the teachings of non-violent confrontation, and using inflammatory language never gets you anywhere… but I must concede, in a bad situation, how would I react? I had to admit I was lucky … at least up to this point, which is now bordering on 28 hours of lock-up time for just lying in a public street without so much as being booked – much less an arraignment!
Suddenly, the cops all have their paperwork and two or four arrestees at a time leave us, with everyone clapping loudly. Near midnight I make the trek onward, to a new rat-maze of places unknown, and soon find myself in the one and only high-tech area of the jail: fingerprinting! I am most impressed that there is no nasty black ink, but instead little digital light panels that read in our fingerprints directly into a computer. The cop I am with is able to catch all ten of my fingers, with special feature shots of thumbs and forefingers. While there, the cop I am with asks another cop about problems with the fingerprint machines. "Rebooting it clears that up every time. I don't know what goes wrong with 'em, but they been pretty busy tonight." I asked how long we might still be locked up and the cop replies, "This processing is fast if you've been arrested before, like frequent flyer miles, you get quicker results. But if you've never been arrested before it takes a lot longer, maybe four or five hours, since it's so busy with all you guys. It checks for warrants all over the country." At least that's something I'm not worried about. He gives me the impression we'll be seeing a judge soon after the prints are checked out. Of course, previous cops had told us we were only hours away from arraignment, but time and time again those hours had come and gone. As a quick recall, please remember that it took them 28 hours just to get together our paperwork for the booking (fingerprints and photos). Twenty-eight hours. It's now past midnight, early Thursday morning, and I was arrested Tuesday night.
After re-handcuffing, I realize I'm in line with Nick again. "We have to stop meeting like this," I said sarcastically. He just smiled. I noticed his shirt for the first time. It reads "Quakers are friends".
"Are you a Quaker?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied.
No, I would challenge anyone to call Nick a radical or an anarchist. He was one of the most passive, peaceful, easy-going guys I have ever met. And his religious background – a religion that believes war is wrong – that I could very much respect. Think if all Christians, Jews and Muslims believed this? What would happen to all these wars? "They'd be gone!" I thought optimistically. And then, more realistically, "They'd be called wackos and replaced by new religions in a heartbeat." Yes, that's more likely. The elite can't rule by fear and intimidation without a population ready to kill those 'evildoers', so they had better not be a population of Quakers.
We are then moved into a strange, elongated room that looked like somebody would come and talk to us through a metal mesh. The weird little room is divided into the three long areas: Two very narrow sections on each side with bolted down seats in front of metal-mesh windows looking out toward the middle section – and the middle section, which is a bit wider with no seats except for one normal-looking chair. It does look like a place for lawyers to talk to clients, but probably not the way we are handcuffed together. Our five-body-connected cuffs do not allow us to sit next to each other properly on the bolted down stools, so every other guy sits on a stool, and the others sit on the floor or the side of counter below the window. Across from us in the other narrow section are some fellow female prisoners. Again they cheer us up, as we do for them, and soon they go. About twenty minutes later another group of female protest prisoners arrives. A very pretty one sits across from me and says, "Are you my lawyer?" We laughed and talked for a while before we are led out to the photo studio.
I take in the primitive level of architecture, metal, ceiling, floors and window coverings never letting in any light as we walk through in the City Jail of New York. Down more stairs we go, and walking down hallways and making sharp turns at right angles. We stood in a line in one hallway still chained together, as a cop asked us who we were and put some paperwork together.
"Officer, can you tell me what I am charged with?" I asked. Up until this point, nobody ever had.
"Parading without a permit… and Disorderly Conduct," replied the Officer.
The area of the photo shoot, not to mention an area outside where a cop monitoring security cameras all around, is at least eighty-degrees, and there are portable air-conditioners down a few steps where we are photographed. At least I get to stand in front of the portable AC unit and feel a cool breeze on my face. I say to one guy I am with, "This must be a temporary setup because of us protesters." "No," he replied. "I've been here before. It's always been like this." Finally, I am called in. "Face forward… Do you have a pony-tail?" "No." "Turn to the side… OK, look forward again." I don't hear any clicks or see any flashes, so that is probably something modern, which is good. But you would think that one of the world's richest cities might have rooms with air-conditioning for it employees: we prisoners were in and out of that area in minutes, but the policemen and policewomen of the NYPD have to work there all the time in that sweatbox!
After the photo shoot, we return to the security camera area outside the photo lab where we are led further into the belly of the beast, into the post-booking lock-up area. This man-made grotto is a large room with a central counter area for the police to work at in the middle, surrounded on both sides by prisoner cells. We enter the first cellblock on the right and I am thrilled to see something new in this holding area we have never seen before: a working pay telephone on the wall! It has been over 12 hours since we have seen any daylight, or a window of any kind, and we have all now been in jail for at least 30 hours. Telephone calls begin, and the National Lawyers Guild is called. Whoever talks on the phone gives us updates and hands us the telephone to tell our own personal stories. I give my arrest numbers, which were two different numbers on my property tickets (I suppose) and tell a women there all about my arrest. "How should I plead at the arraignment? I'm from out of state," I said. "Let me get one of the lawyers," she replies.
Soon, a guy talks to me and says I shouldn't be talking about the details of my case over the telephone at this time, and that I will see a lawyer just before arraignment and make the decision on my plea there. I hand the phone to the next guy and take my second constitutional of my stay, realizing that holding it in is no longer possible. The toilets are in open areas, but at least in this section there are small walls and a door around the toilet, so you have a small amount of privacy at least. Of course, the toilet is rather disgusting, with marks and stains on them that seem to be permanent architectural features, but it's stainless steel so you can just toss toilet paper on it and say to hell with it, sit down and relax. It's a body function, just get it over with.
"When you see the EMS, get some food, and come over here to this cell," said a loud cop in front of us at the entryway. In fact, all the cops were extremely loud in this area late at night – these cops have clearly known each other for a long time, and every other word they utter seems to be of the four-letter variety, completely from the gutter. And that's basically where we are so it doesn't seem out of place. I soon find out that 'the EMS' is the Emergency Medical (Serviceperson?), and they had two little booth-like areas in the front of the middle police-counter section we had seen while entering the room. My name is finally called and I meet the guy. "Have you had your tuberculosis inoculation? How long ago? Allergies? Are you on medication." Luckily, my health is fine, and I thank him for asking. He writes something down on a paper and hands it back toward another cop who was filing our medical reports together. "OK, you can go." I moved from the booth to get some food: a couple of peanut-butter sandwiches (one swipe of peanut-butter in the middle of a two pieces of plain white bread), an apple and something to drink. I walked over to the counter where I had seen a guy getting juice earlier. I picked up a cup and the loud cop yells, "I said there's no more juice! Get back over here!" I walk back and took a small carton of milk and entered the second lock-up area on the left, which is much bigger. This was the best one yet – we have two telephones here and a lot more places on the floor to sleep since we are not quite as overcrowded. Still, it is almost impossible for everyone to find a place to sit or sleep, so a few were always standing. I met more guys with stories on how they were arrested.
A guy named John said they were walking in a demonstration near Union Square and the cops put a barricade in front of them. They turned around, but found the cops had put another barricade behind them. They told them to get out of the street and stand on the sidewalk. They did. Then they were all arrested. Hmm… I've heard that story before. There was a middle-aged black guy that told me he was taking a picture of the protesters at Union Square, and the cops came up and arrested him. "I wasn't even in the protest. I was just in the park after getting off work." Another guy said he was videoing the protesters from the sidewalk. When the cops told the protesters to get on the sidewalk, he was surrounded by them, and then under arrest.
This pattern went on and on and on. Counting the stories from our cell, and learning each and every situation, I realized that the cops had jailed a lot of people for doing absolutely nothing. We are talking about people that may have a sign, or a camera, or sometimes nothing. People that may or may not be in the march. But all people that were non-violent, cooperated with the police and did as they were told, and simply went to jail anyway. After speaking with others, we agree that at least two-thirds of those arrested were these utterly illegal arrests. The only explanation is that the cops wanted to get all demonstrators off the streets, and make sure that only THEY had the film and video to provide the press on their story of what happened and why. Since Rodney King in LA back in the early 1990's, it is obvious that anyone with a camera can make the cops look very bad. And now we were rolling into Thursday morning, and 36 hours of incarceration… for what? Disorderly conduct? Parading without a Permit?
The night shift cops continue on loud and obnoxious, some of them barking orders like German shepherds. They would also yell at each other, and one of them was very good at yelling "Fuck Bush!" which we all replied "Fuck Bloomberg!" We complimented one of cops, the one that barked at us constantly while supervising the food distribution, as being the finest sandwich server in the force. This guy was just an egghead looking to yell at people. Shane, one of the other DIE-IN guys, asked for the supervisor, and questioned a cop about the conditions being bad, which the cop said he couldn't do anything about. I asked if there was any way to lower the number of prisoners in the cell so we could get some sleep (it was around 3 or 4am), and the guy said our cell was for 21 detainees. Shane kept arguing the point, getting louder and more forceful, and finally the cop got mad at us. "Alright, I'll make room for you guys to sleep." He opened the door and walked in and yelled, "All you on the benches, sit up! No sleeping on the benches!" That was useless. I laid on the floor as arguments about politics started, and starting yelling at them all "Shut the fuck up! Please! Shut up!" But as I lie with my face under my hat, I was just another loud voice yelling in the chaos of cops and demonstrators screaming at each other. Hours later, probably near breakfast time, one of the big black cops was having a conversation with one of the black guys in our cell (for the most part, most of the prisoners were white guys – like 90 percent). This was yet another guy that was taking a picture and got thrown in jail for nothing.
"You out there, protesting, makes it more dangerous for terrorism to happen, since we are all taking care of you guys here," said the cop.
"Yes, you've got a point. But we have freedom of assembly."
"Not without a permit if you have more than 20 people."
"That's not in the constitution! That's a local New York ordinance."
"It's for public safety, and with these terrorists, we have to be more worried about that than you guys yelling and making problems for everybody."
"It's also keeps muzzle on free speech. What do you think would happen if Martin Luther King had waited for his permits to march? You think any of those racists would have given him the OK to march? If it wasn't for him, you'd still be somewhere washing dishes in back, you'd never be a cop!"
The big black cop nodded in agreement. He understood that. "But this is different. We got terrorists out there tryin' to kill us."
"Just because that's going on doesn't mean we all have to hide and forget what's going on in Iraq and all the other bullshit with the Republicans."This cause against the war is like what King was doing."It's wrong."Millions of people in this country know it's wrong."And if Bloomberg wasn't such an asshole and had not arrested so many people for legally protesting, then maybe they would have just walked up the street, yelled for a while, and then went home."It happens all the time in New York."But now we got Republicans here and all the protesters get arrested.""It looks bad for Bush cause of the press being here, so we all go to jail."You see how fucked up this is?"
The conversation became quieter and quieter, but it is good to hear two black men debating an important political issue from their different perspectives. Arguments and discussions about politics went on and off all the time, as concepts of night and day went away. We never see any daylight, and bright florescent lights kept us constantly annoyed when trying to sleep.
Shane gets one of the cops over and asks that Jason see a medic. The guy really is really sick. He had been sick before he got here, getting over a cold, but he said he was almost over the cold on Tuesday before he was arrested. I suppose spending the night in a Hudson River pier and sleeping on a greasy, oily floor of concrete didn't help matters. Jason also said two of his fingers are numb from the tight handcuffs he had to wear, and there were bumps on his wrists – a possible reaction to minor cuts and the toxic grime he slept on back at GITMO. All in all, the guy is coughing and not at all in good shape. I ask Shane to be quiet, but he asks me if I had a problem with his request. He is now trying to see if the cops will release Jason early – bump him up on the list, since the guy is sick. I just say yeah, I agree with you, but I just want to sleep. The fact is, lack of sleep and the conditions of jail get people agitated and irritated at times, and I am certainly feeling that way. All I want to do is sleep… under bright lights, on a hard, dirty floor, with people constantly talking and sometimes yelling. Finally, they take Jason away, hopefully to see a doctor.
Later in the morning, on and off, guys names are sporadically called and they leave, but it's only a trickle, and they are sometimes replaced. Steve finally gets out, as did Gary. An older man, not in terribly good health, leaves, but twenty minutes later he's back with an interesting story. He tells us that he's back because they had to redo his fingerprints. "It took them twelve hours to figure out your fingerprints were bad? Twelve hours?" He just shrugged and took a bite from a sandwich he'd been given on his return. "But I've got to use the phone," he says. "There's an hysterical woman up there I met. She gave me a number for me to call one of her friends because they don't know where she is." He paused and took another bite. "What happened? What's wrong with her?" we asked. He then tells us the story. A woman with an abdominal pain had been visiting her doctor's office. There was a possibility it was appendicitis, but after her appointment she left the doctor's office, stepped outside right into a crowd of demonstrators getting arrested. The pain is becoming worse and worse. She has never been given access to a telephone, and has never seen a proper doctor. They are now taking her to Bellevue Hospital, but still she's worried that nobody knows where she is. "She gave me a telephone number and asked me to call her family right away. She was hysterical," said the old guy, walking over to the phone.
Telling us all to get out, we move over to yet another cell in this area, the biggest one yet. Finally I can get some sleep. After a brief sleep, I meet a guy named Jody who tells me what happened with their Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign march from Monday night. He'd been in jail a lot longer than us -- almost three days in jail without arraignment! I wonder why?
Anyway, as Jody tells it, just like our DIE-IN protest that got divided in half from the very start, it appears that the Poor People's march was broken up too around 8th Street south of MSG, but in a much more dramatic way. When they were coming up to one of the intersections on 8th Avenue, he saw a big black guy wearing an unusual motorcycle helmet, dressed in a white shirt, camouflage pants and Timberlake boots on a huge motorcycle. As they entered the intersection, he saw the biker turn his motorbike directly at him, and drove straight at them all. "It just missed me by inches, but it knocked down a women and hurt her leg, and knocked down another guy. We all grabbed the guy and got him off his bike, and some people were really pissed off, kicking and hitting him. The cops ran up and grabbed him and we all got arrested."
But his story is not over. "I called my friend on the telephone, and he said that CNN was showing a clip of rioting protesters that was about two seconds long. It shows people kicking the biker in the head. But the report coming out with video clip is completely different than what really happened. He says his friend is telling him that the news media is telling everyone that the crowd attacked a POLICE OFFICER! "They even lie and say he was on a police motor scooter, not a huge Kawasaki something. That was a big, scary bike." It's not a pretty tale, but he says it's all true, and dozens and dozens of people witnessed what happened. However, with all the witnesses to the contrary in jail, and anyone with a camera in jail, and all camera seized, the entire thing is hushed up and spun just the way the authorities wanted it. Again, our news media is little more than a mouthpiece for the government party line. Orwell truly is rolling in his grave. After meeting hundreds of people in jail, throughout my entire stay in jail, meeting dozens and dozens of people, I have never met anyone yet that has admitted to rioting or fighting with the police, or looked like they even wanted to. Everyone understood that ALL of the protests were to be non-violent, and that fighting with police officers is just plain stupid. Now that I am home, I researched this incident on the web. Sure enough, all of the news about the NYPD plain-clothes police officer William Sample only talk about how protesters attacked him. However, I did find one website that mostly confirms every detail of Jody's sequence of events:
(I'm not sure how long Cincinnatti, Ohio's CityBeat web site will keep that web page live, so here it is locally downloaded.)
Amazingly, this is the only outbreak of violence I can find from the entire week of protests, in which around1800 people were jailed. Compare that to the chaos of the 1968 Chicago riots that had far fewer arrests, and far more violence attributed to protesters. The truth is, the protests of A31 were incredibly peaceful and cooperative, and far more people were arrested than needed.
So now, all the patterns come together, and it is all quite clear what is going on.
· The city refuses to grant protesters "Parade Permits" to march and demonstrate Monday and Tuesday during the Republican Convention, including Central Park which is far away and a safe place. This is obviously done to suppress the demonstrations and keep them out of the media spotlight as much as possible.
· The police are ordered by their political masters to use tactics to divide and breakup the protesters before they can get very far (especially on Tuesday) to diminish their numbers and impact for media coverage. This obviously includes events such as the break up of the War Resistors League march near the World Trade Center, and blockades around Union Square to break up those protests.
· The police are ordered to arrest people for nothing other than protesting, or being near protesters, or having a camera, or being between barricades during arrests. In short, during this one week period, the police are instructed to make more than one-thousand illegal arrests!
· When police do take protesters into custody, they are given outrageously long jail times before arraignment, unable to talk to a lawyer or the press during this time, giving the authorities the chance to shape and mold the news stories as they see fit for the press the next day.
· The police not only arrest any and all protesters they can find, but anyone around with a camera that may have proof to contradict official statements by the government.
· And best, or worst, of all the Republicans manage a media coup! On Monday, August 30, 2004, Day 1 of the Republican National Convention, they choreograph a brilliant scene in which an African American plain-clothes police officer is sent directly into a crowd of demonstrators to provoke a riot, in which, as I said, 90% of the protesters are white. The propaganda machine of the Republican Party makes certain that a two-second video-clip showing "white" protesters beat and kick a "black" police officer is splashed on CNN and the other TV networks. The tactics of divide and rule are no where more evident than here, because the Republicans know that they must divide their opposition if they can have any chance of winning elections, and they are masters at the art!
After seeing that the Hudson River pier detainee area is called RNC(something), it's quite obvious to everyone I meet that we are all political prisoners in our own country.
It is now 12 noon Thursday, and some of us wonder if we will ever get out. The lockup room across from us, where we had first been in, now yells out that they are starting a hunger strike. Since I had finished eating, I said yeah, I'm in. Eight out of twelve people in our cell join the hunger strike. Word goes from cell to cell. Soon we have 55 people in, just from a half-dozen cellblocks on our floor. They called the NLG to give the update, but at 1pm, the big news came in: A judge ordered all detainees from Tuesday (or earlier) to be arraigned by 5pm Thursday, or face a $1,000.00 fine for each person held. (Yes!!!)
Within two hours, things start moving fast. Suddenly names are getting called out, and people are leaving. We cheer as they go, and I notice Nick talking to one of the cops and then sit back down. "What was that all about?" I ask. "He's a Quaker. He saw my shirt." I looked down and read it again: Quakers are Friends. "He told me what meeting he's from. It's a Quaker greeting." Across from the cell, I saw a piece of paper on a column where the cops sit at the central desk. Printed on it was a round circle with a line through it, crossing out a big letter W. I pointed it out, and Nick told me that it was there last night, but that the cops took it down when we started arguing about politics. But the Quaker cop Nick had just met had put it back up earlier in the morning. I have got to say that after this experience, I really do like Quakers a lot.
More chains of freedom arrived, lots of them, as they pull out all of our files. The multiple, connected hand-cuffs chain-gang style are a good sign – it means we're going a good ways out of here and out of the lock-up area. When they call my name, I leave, get chained up with five other guys, and we walk past more cheering arrestees. We go back up some stairs, down a few hallways, and back through some hallways we have been through before. We stop near the security monitoring area near a dozen cops, one of which is mocking us by singing,"Kum-bay-yah, my Lord, Kum-bay-yah." Making our way up and through the rat-maze of the City Jail to a small room where we are across the hall from something we hadn't seen in ages: a hazy, foggy window and daylight! They even removed our chains!
But we are quickly on the telephone again with the NLG, telling our stories, who we are and that we were about to be arraigned. But just as quickly, me and the five guys I came with are moved to another cell (no chains are needed now), and we can see that there are three booths here for private conversations with lawyers. Outside our cell are two officers that are watching TV, and we can hear the audio. The news is on, and they are talking about… us! One of the guys asks "Be a friend, man. Turn the TV around so we can see too." "I'm not your friend," replies the officer. "If you saw me on the street, you wouldn't give the time of day, much less even look at me." "That's not right man," replied the prisoner. "Yes it is, man. You aren't my friend," he said, standing up. They had a heated discussion for ten minutes about absolutely nothing, and in the meantime, we couldn't hear the stupid TV anymore.
Nick is there and says, "Hey, I'm getting out. I already saw a lawyer. I just agree not to commit any crime in New York City for the next six months, and I walk."
"That's it?" I can't believe it can be so simple. Nick is one of my DIE-IN friends here. We were blocking a street for over an hour. That's a misdemeanor at least, right? Finally, my name is shouted out and I see my lawyer. I have never been so happy to see an elderly, white-haired Hasidic Jew in my entire life! Wearing the same little hat that I was so suspicious of earlier on Tuesday, I enjoy seeing it now. The lawyer asks me to confirm name, date of birth, etc. "How old are you?" "Forty-four." He seems a bit surprised. "Forty-four? I hope I look that young when I turn forty-four," he says. I smile, fully knowing this kindly, elder Jewish man must be around 70 years old. Then he tells me the deal: I agree not to commit any crimes in New York City for the next six months and walk.
"That's it? Nothing to sign even?"
I can't believe it. There must be a catch.
I wait another ten minutes and hear my name called. I walk out with three other guys and sit down on a bench, waiting for my name again. But at last – I am in a courtroom! There is a judge up on his elevated platform and in front of him two people stand: One is my lawyer and the other is probably the prosecuting attorney for the city. I hear my name, walk up, and face the judge. The prosecuting attorney gives the charge against me, my lawyer enters the plea, the judge accepts it, and my lawyer turns to me and says, "You are free to go." He motions to the back of the courtroom. I still can't believe it. I walk back a few steps between the pews. Do I sit down somewhere now. I look around for a cop to tell me what to do. No one seems interested in me. I shrug and walk to the door at the back, or actually, it's the entranceway into the courtroom for regular people, because I came in through a side entrance near the judge.
I open the door and realize I am standing, free as a bird, in City Hall of Lower Manhattan. And there, in front of me, is the smiling face of Frieda, my new WRL friend that gave my poster to Rose a couple days ago that I couldn't find. Frieda smiles and walks up and hugs me. The experience is sheer exhilaration.
"That's it? I'm free? No fine, nothing?"
"Yes!" She takes me aside and we walk to the central lobby at the front of City Hall.
"Go out to the left and cross the street. Everyone is out there greeting the protesters. Make sure you see the medic, and don't wash your clothes, put them in a bag."
"Oh, I've got a napkin for that – my clothes never touched the ground in that pier, but this napkin sure did." I pull it out and show her.
I still can't believe it. "No fine? Nothing?"
Frieda is laughing now. "No, it's over. Just go on out, and make sure you see the medic."
I walk outside under some temporary scaffolding for construction work at the front of the entrance, and see cops everywhere. In front, across Centre Street, I hear the crowd cheering as another guy in front of me is crossing the street with his arms raised in the air. I walk out and hear the crowd cheer also as I cross the street, walking through a sea of clicking camera and video recorders. Hmm… Maybe I'm not the best guy for this scene. Being that I've taken sick leave from work without telling anyone, having my face splash across TV or a newspaper would be a bit hard to explain to some people. Besides, I have to get back to work. I had been in jail for 45 hours. It's 6:00 P.M. Thursday night. I need to catch a train out of town ASAP! I walk through the crowd and a guy with a green hat from one of the legal groups asks me to sign on as one of the possible litigants for a lawsuit against the city, should that ever happen. Yes! I think we'll be hearing more about GITMO Pier 57! I would love a piece of this action! Two of the older women of the War Resistors League that I met in training and on the march hug me, one of them almost crying she is so happy to see me and the others getting out. "Are you alright?" "Yes, I'm fine."
I go to the medical area and a young woman with the Medical Activists group gives me a cup of mineral water and takes down all my information. She tells me not to wash my clothes but to bag them and send them – but I interrupt her. "Not necessary. I am on of the very few who by sheer will power kept my clothing from touching the floor directly, and used this napkin to sit on." I removed the filthy napkin from my pocket, which was dirty with black grit and filth ground in. "Here. Take it now, and start your tests." She found a large plastic bag and put in the napkin, along with a document on who gave it to them and what it was about.
"When you go home, take a shower in cold water first, to get the grime and oil off, and then use soap. Then you can take a hot shower."
"A cold shower first?"
"Yes. Your pores will stay closed so that everything washes off, and doesn't get into your system more than it already has. After you have soaped it all off in cold water, take a warm shower."
I thank her and leave, and get back to my cousin's empty apartment. Washing the grime off, and my oily hair, I am finally clean again. As I step out of the shower I feel as though I have been reborn, after my symbolic death from nearly two days ago. As I book my train out of town and walk out and catch a cab, I start making my cell phone calls to worried family and friends.
At Penn Station I have an hour to kill before the train leaves, so I go to Hoolihan's and have steak and a salad, my first decent meal since Tuesday afternoon, and I was starving! And beer! How delicious! Behind me they are playing TVs with live CNN coverage of the Republican Convention, and I laugh at times hearing the same old lies. It may have been a small victory at City Hall for the protesters, but the machine is still alive and well. It continues to manipulate the news, creating an endless propaganda image to keep the masses brainwashed and fearful of bogeymen as our civil rights are violated and innocent people are murdered in the cause of a fabricated war against a spooky demon called 'Terrorism'. Yes, the Republicans are in power, and far more powerful than we are, but after meeting hundreds of my fellow protesters in jail, I know one thing for sure: They haven't brainwashed all of us yet.
PS: A month later I went back and got my camera from the Tombs prisoner possession
holding area (whatever they call it). I developed the film, but forgot to get it
digital. One of these days I have to put pictures with this article.
It never ends... Three years later and the City is still fighting to keep documents about the arrests "Secret"! Who knows how dangerous it would be to let the unsuspecting public read about the results of using cheap plastic tie-wraps for hand-cuffs! Good grief. Judge orders NYC to release documents
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THE REPUBLICANS: THE CONVENTION IN NEW YORK -- DEMONSTRATIONS; At Least 900 Arrested in City As Protesters Clash With Police
''It's an example of the police suckering the protesters,'' said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, referring to the arrest of some 200 protesters who said they thought they were abiding by an agreement they had negotiated with the police as they marched from ground zero on Fulton Street.
''It was a bait-and-switch tactic,'' she added, ''where they approved a demonstration and the protesters kept up their end of the bargain. They undermined people's confidence in the police, and that's a serious problem as we go forward.''
This is a GREAT article about what happened -- 100% verified, real, it happened, just as I said. Read this: 2004 Republican National Convention in NYC Be not discouraged. At least we can still talk, not that the "commercial media" will. Thank God for the internet!