The Waiting Game

City keeps hundreds in jail too long, chilling protests and angering families

Michael Arrington, 52, arrived at the criminal court building in Manhattan early last Thursday, determined to find his brother Peter Hinds. By now, Hinds, 54, had been locked up for a day and a half. Arrington and Hinds are both Vietnam veterans, visiting New York City from Philadelphia. Two days earlier, they'd been watching an anti-war protest on East 16th Street, just east of Union Square, when the cops sealed off both ends of the block. "We weren't demonstrating," Arrington says. "We were just standing on the sidewalk."

Like everybody else, the two men were cuffed, put on a bus, and taken to a grimy former bus depot at Pier 57. Later, they were brought to 100 Centre Street to be fingerprinted and photographed. Arrington had been released the day before, after 18 hours. He worried he might have nerve damage; a cop had put plastic handcuffs on him so tightly that one thumb was still numb. Yet he was even more worried about his brother. Peter Hinds, who received a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, had been locked up for 38 hours.

"Something happened here I thought would never happen," Arrington says. "You expect it in the former Soviet Union, or Saudi Arabia maybe. But New York City? It's like they took the Bill of Rights and threw it in the trash can. To be arrested for standing on a sidewalk for disorderly conduct? It's beyond ridiculous. It violates people's rights. I'd have never believed it if you told me this would happen in the middle of New York City."

Across from 100 Centre Street: Elspeth Schell waits for her daughter, Phoebe.
photo: Cary Conover
Across from 100 Centre Street: Elspeth Schell waits for her daughter, Phoebe.

Late Thursday afternoon, the park across from 100 Centre Street was packed with friends and family members of people who had been arrested. The police had made nearly 1,800 arrests at protests related to the Republican National Convention, and most of them had occurred on Tuesday. Two days later, hundreds of people were still locked up, despite the fact that New York City has a "24-hour rule," which requires the city to arraign defendants within 24 hours of their arrest. Attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild and elsewhere had filed writs of habeas corpus that morning to try to expedite the prisoners' release.

Around midday, furious family members held an impromptu press conference. The speakers included Marie Carlucci, who had been standing in the park since 5:30 a.m., waiting for her 26-year-old daughter, a nursing student. "It's like having your child just disappear and not knowing where she is," Carlucci said. "I'm going crazy here." Her daughter had been picked up by the police at 9:15 p.m. on Tuesday. "She wasn't out protesting," Carlucci said. "She was on her way home from work."

Sebastian Licht stood outside the courthouse with a sign that said: "I was held hostage for 41 hours." On Tuesday, Licht had come to Manhattan from Stony Creek, Connecticut, with a friend. The two had planned to go out drinking to celebrate Licht's 22nd birthday. Instead, they'd inadvertently been caught up in a protest near Herald Square. The police circled the crowd with orange mesh netting. Licht managed to escape through the blockade, but when he turned around, he saw his friend was still inside. Licht ran back to join him.

According to Licht, his friend is mentally ill and needs to take antipsychotic medicine daily. By now two days had gone by with no medication. At the end of the press conference, Licht started screaming: "My friend is borderline schizophrenic! He needs his medication!" The shouting didn't accomplish much. As the hours passed, Licht was still outside the courthouse, still waiting. The irony of the situation, Licht said, was that his friend "likes Bush. He agrees with his foreign policy."

Even having political connections did not seem to do much good. Elaine Brower, who works for City Comptroller William Thompson, had been out here since Tuesday evening. She'd slept only two hours in the last two days, ever since her 20-year-old daughter, Tanya, had been arrested at a protest near the New York Public Library. Brower, 50, had already called everyone she could think of—Thompson, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, Al Sharpton—and she hadn't had any luck.

She has NYPD connections, too. Her son is in the police academy and her husband is a retired lieutenant. Her husband had come down here Wednesday night, but that hadn't done any good either. "I'm incensed that our system allowed this to happen," Brower said. "Last night they were yelling that they were freezing."

At 12:52 p.m., a celebrity finally did arrive. Not Mayor Bloomberg or Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. It was Andre 3000, looking dapper in a red bowtie with tiny white polka dots, a red-and-blue checkered shirt, and a black vest.

"We love you, Andre!" somebody shouted.

"Andre from OutKast?" another said. "That's so cool!"

Andre 3000 had come with Michael Schiller, who had been working on a film for HBO about which candidate Andre is going to vote for in the upcoming election. On Tuesday night, Michael and an intern had been out filming a protest (minus Andre), when they were both arrested. He'd been released after 28 hours, but the 21-year-old intern, Shana Rigby, was still locked up. The last time he'd seen her she'd been crying on the street, plastic cuffs binding her wrists together. Tuesday had been her first day of work in the field.

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