Thursday, September 02, 2004

Preview of Coming Attractions 

Final tally: 1700 people arrested in NYC during the Republican National Convention, three times as many as in Chicago in 1968 -- hundreds of them illegally detained, hundreds of them arrested although they were not protesting. Gitmo North? Let's just call it a trial run by the Bush administration to see what they can get away with:
A criminal court judge ordered the release of hundreds of Bush protesters Thursday, ruling that police held them illegally without charges for more than 40 hours. As the protesters began trickling out of jail, they spoke of being held without access to lawyers, initially in a holding cell that had oil and grease spread across the floor.

Several dozen of those detained said that they had not taken part in protests. Police apparently swept up the CEO of a puppet theater as he and a friend walked out of the subway to celebrate his birthday. Two middle-age women who had been shopping at the Gap were handcuffed, and a young woman was arrested as she returned from her job at a New York publishing house.

Hours before President Bush made his speech to the Republican National Convention, Manhattan Criminal Court Judge John Cataldo held city officials in contempt of court for failing to release more than 500 detained demonstrators by 5 p.m. The judge said that the detentions violated state law, and he threatened to impose a fine of $1,000 per day for each person kept in custody longer than 24 hours without being arraigned.

As of Thursday evening, about 168 people still in detention had been held for more than 24 hours.

Outside the hulking criminal court building in Lower Manhattan, the mood was a mix of festive and angry as the released protesters walked down the jailhouse stairs to cheers from families and friends. Dirty and tired, and with matted hair, many fell into the arms of those who waited. But others -- who had been handcuffed and said they had not been given medicines for asthma and epilepsy -- sat on blankets in a park across the street and sought attention from medics who had been organized by a collective of activist groups.

"I was held for 44 hours without being able to call my family or talk to a lawyer," said Griffin Epstein, 20, one of 14 college students who was arrested while standing with antiwar picket signs at 34th Street and Sixth Avenue. "We were taken to a big metal cage, and the ground was covered with a black, cakey motor oil. We were given one apple each after nine hours" . . . .

Throughout this week, Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne had insisted that just a few dozen protesters had spent more than six hours behind bars without being charged or released. On Thursday, Browne acknowledged for the first time that large numbers of demonstrators endured long detentions. But he blamed them for overwhelming the police department.

"It's a new entitled, pampered class of demonstrators who want to engage in civil disobedience but don't want to be inconvenienced by arrest processing," Browne said.
And would it or would it not be a new entitled, pampered class of Deputy Police Commissioner who wants to detain American citizens with no regard for their basic constitutional rights, but doesn't want to be inconvenienced by the long waits in the unemployment line his ignorance and incompetence plainly merit?
Michael Sladek, who owns a film production company in Brooklyn, was arrested in Midtown two evenings ago as he photographed the police and demonstrators. He spent 48 hours in custody without access to a phone before he was charged with obstructing a pedestrian -- an administrative violation -- and released.

"For us, it was very clear this was a detention to keep people off the street," Sladek said outside the jail. "And the saddest thing was that so many people had nothing to with protesting the convention."

Those coming out of the jail in southern Manhattan said that police never advised them of their right to talk to an attorney. And several people, independent of one another, said police told them that if they signed a document admitting guilt and waiving the right to sue for false arrest, they would be released early.

Civil liberties lawyers noted that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R) courted the Republican National Convention knowing that massive demonstrations were likely, and that city officials had more than a year to prepare. "It's hard to imagine it's just incompetence, as our city officials do a pretty good job," said Donna Lieberman, chief of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "It seems that we have gotten a kinder, gentler form of preventative detention."
UPDATE (via Zemblan patriots J.T. and J.D.): Tom Engelhardt's firsthand account of the Sunday afternoon protest march:
With hovering helicopters, serried ranks of police, and visible police dogs (which, I have to admit, brought to mind Abu Ghraib), not to speak of that Fuji blimp shadowing the march from beginning to end, you could sense how blurred the distinction between dissent and terror was becoming. Dissent is now something that, by definition, should take place in penned-in locations between lines of militarized police. While many protestors were clearly driven to the march by the war in Iraq (and other Bush administration horrors), fears of loss of liberties were also a powerful motivator. Marchers -- at least those I talked with -- almost uniformly felt that their presence was a statement in favor of the very existence of civil liberties. I was struck as well by how many people made the decision to come in the face of a sense of intimidation and how many were willing to travel sometimes surprising distances to attend.

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