Mass arrests on A31 and NY jails
Nearly 1,200 arrests in one day, here's one version of events.
1,200 arrests in one day, here's on version of events.
September 3rd, 2004
Tuesday, which was designated as the day for civil disobedience and direct action against the Republican Convention started out very mellow for me. I went down to the convergence center at St. Mark's Church in the Lower East Side to meet some friends and check out the jail solidarity training, as I knew there was a decent probability of getting arrested. After Seeds of Peace/Food Not Bombs served up a nice lunch we headed up to Sotheby's where there was an auction going on for the Republican delegates in honor of Johnny Cash. As most Cash fans know, he wrote songs about the poor, the working class, and standing up for those downtrodden souls. People weren't ready to let the Republicans take him for their own, so around 600 people gathered to tell them "Who's Cash? Our Cash!". My friends and I made it up there with a couple of bucket's of fruit and bagels/pastries for the folks willing to come out and defend the Man in Black's honor. Almost immediately an officer pulled me over to another officer asking her "Can I let him go with this? They could throw it back at us!". It was a bucket of bananas, plums, and apples. I told the second officer I was feeding people, and asked twice if I was being detained, until she said "Go". The rest of the demo was pretty mellow, around a hundred riot cops made sure of it with the help of those metal barricades the NYPD loves so much.
After awhile, we decided to head down to Union Square as their was to be a text message about the location of a spontaneous street party in Midtown announced. A few minutes after we got down there, we found out it was to leave from Union Square. What luck, following the Infernal Noise Brigade (from Seattle) out onto Park ave., the cops blocked off our northbound route, so we turned east onto 16th street. But as soon as we got near the end of the block, they rolled the fancy orange netting across any possible exit onto Irving Place. Immediately approximately 30 of us sat down, linking arms and started the ever present "WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS!". However, the streets were apparrently belonging to the NYPD this fine night. As soon as the cops moved all the photographers/videographers out of the way, the entire group jumped up, apparrently not ready to sit down yet. My partner and I were baffled by this action, why the heck were sitting and locking arms if we weren't willing to do it until the cops removed us? So we tried to backtrack to get out, but exit onto Park was blocked, and they were giving no dispersal order. So, we danced. the INB and another marching band continued to play while some danced in the street, and others tried to stick to the presumed safe space of the sidewalk. But then the cops started tackling random people in the street, cuffing with these horrible plastic handcuffs (a million times more uncomfortable then the classic metal style). I backed up onto the sidewalk, and looked over to see the cops pulling members of the marching band into the streets to be arrested. I linked arms with one of them and as she was pulled out a cop yelled "Grab him too!". I tried to squirm away, but three more joined in and slammed me onto the street. My right arm was pinned under me, so they lifted me to get it out, and then slammed me back down with a knee on the top side of my head. The cops then scooted me forward a bit, with the knee still on my head scraping the bottom side of my face along 16th street. I screamed to get off of my head, and fortunately they did, but then promptly threw me in the back of a windowless van.
The next girl that was put in had her cellphone attacked to her wrist, so I maneuvered around to dial and her boyfriend what had happened. Once our van was full, they pulled us around to the other side of the block. We talked candidly with the two arresting officers of our group, trying to convince them we were right and they were wrong. The one had parents from Iran, and was muslim, and was quite sympathetic to us. He told us about how he had always wanted to be a doctor, but couldn't afford the schooling, so he became a cop because of the job security. They were both generally nice about our subtle joking with them, and seemed to be genuinely nice guys, just unfortunately willing to take orders they believe to be wrong. It must have been a couple of hours before they finally took us out of the steaming van, and loaded us into a city bus with many others. Several people had to stand, with their hands cuffed behing their backs, while officers sat in the seats. They took us to the now infamous "Pier 57", which is a former bus garage. We were finally there at around midnight, I having been arrested around 6:30 in the evening. The city had constructed chain-link fence cages topped with razor-wire for us. After I had my picture taken about 9 times, they finally put me in the big pen, as their were many small pens, and one big one. I first noticed the sign on the wall outside the fence that read "Raw Chemical Storage Area" and several other signs instructing that goggles and other protective gear be worn at all times. There were no seats or benches of any kind set up, only the bare floor, covered in oil/grease, dirt, transmission fluid, gasoline, and who knows what else. After several hours of chanting "Let us out!" and other stuff, we were given an apple to eat. The process they had set up in this place was ridiculous. My arresting officer told me that the commanding officer kept changing the process, and where each step in the process would take place. He told me the CO was possible insane.
After awhile, time became very elusive, but some hours after the sun came up, they reloaded us into Department of Corrections busses and took us to Central Booking. I was in three different cells before they ever searched me, and then it was several hours before they took me to be fingerprinted by a very fancy computer. In the meantime most of the officers were just sitting around, dozing, reading the paper, talking about the interesting stuff that cops talk about, etc. I was in a 20x20 cell with 65 other people, several of which had just gotten swept up in the dragnets while going about their daily business. After the fingerprinting, they had taken us into the basement, where there was a long hallway lined with cells. I was put in a cell marked Max. Capacity 20, but it consistently had around 25 people in it. Fortunately, somebody had got through all the searches with the list of all the phone numbers of the Republican National Committee and a phone card. So half that night was spent talking to answering machines, as there was nowhere near enough room for everyone to sleep on the floor. That night (wednesday) we heard from the National Lawyers Guild that a writ of habeas corpus had been signed by a judge instructing that we all be released by one in the morning, that night. But by that time, the City was defying the order, and was again ordered to release us by four in the morning. The Department of Corrections had also been disobeying the judge's order to allow lawyers into Central Booking to speak with us. After that was denied, the NLG took the case to the Appellate Court at around 9 in the morning, where the judge denied the city's plea for more time, and ordered everyone release by 5 that afternoon.
All this time, the city, and the DOC was claiming to just be backed up, that they couldn't process us fast enough. But first off, before the convention, they City said it was prepared for 1,000 arrest a day. We learned there had been around 1,200 arrest on our day. Secondly, the DOC workers, were just sitting around. Hours passed without people being taken out of the cells to be processed. Meanwhile, they fed us more white bread than I've seen in years. Though apparently at some point Mayor Bloomberg claimed they were providing us with some sort of soy "meat", I find this to be hard to believe. One of my cellmates asked for soy, and the DOC reached into a crate of bologna sandwiches and said "here ya go". When he pointed out that it was clearly bologna the guard randomly reached in again and said "Oh, sorry, here it is." But spirits were generally kept up on our block with songs (not typical protest songs, but horribly sung horrible pop songs, and even a couple Johnny Cash songs as I still had the lyric sheet from the Man In Black Bloc demo), having dance contests, trying to convince cops and DOC workers to quit their jobs, and generally acting like children on no sleep.
But finally, after 46 hours in custody without seeing a lawyer, or being charged with a crime, I was finally pulled out to see a lawyer, and be charged with Disorderly Conduct and (the horribly demeaning) Parading Without a Permit. Both of these "crimes" are generally treated about as seriously as a speeding ticket, requiring neither arrest nor anything else except an appearance before a judge at a later date. I was offered 6 months probation and clean record, and took it without officially being found guilty. I was dissappointed with taking this option as it precludes me from taking part in the civil suit the NLG is bringing against the city, but could not afford to go back and forth between the coast, just for a little settlement money.
The bright side came when I was released, and came out of Central Booking to find hundreds of people waiting to greet us as we came out. I was immediately approached by an NLG volunteer to fill out a complaint against the cops/city (of which I'm sure a lot of good will come) and then medics to make sure I was OK. They treated the scrape on my face (which by now was very dirty and dried up from lack of treatment), and then sent me off to where seeds of peace/food not bombs had come through once again with some yummy vegan food to replenish after the steady diet of white bread and "cheese".
Afterwards, the NYPD was fined $470,000 over the arrest on August 31st, though the money does not go to protesters, it is assumed that a portion of it will go to the wonderful NLG.
AFTERWORD Though the entire experience was ridiculous, some good did come out of it. We were pushed closer together, and I forged friendships with people I either never would have met, or never would have befriended before. We discussed everything, and I was happy to see several people who were not previously politicized claim to have lost faith in their government in 24 hours, proclaiming that they would be in the streets with us from that point on. So many of the people who had just gotten swept up while going about their daily business, were then radicalized, praising us for what we were doing. Even some cops and DOC officers had great conversations with us about the system and what's wrong with it. Hopefully we can maintain those relationships, and the energy that flowed in NYC this week.
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