Arrest Watch: NY Jails Called Unprepared


February 1—All seven ACT UP activists arrested yesterday have been released, giving the world a first glimpse at New York’s plans for handling what could eventually be hundreds of arrests during the World Economic Forum. Police have said they can handle a flood of a thousand arrests if need be—but faced with an initially small stream, they seemed less sure of the right response.

ACT UP member Sharonann Lynch said she and four other women nabbed while hanging a banner downtown on Thursday morning spent much of the day being driven around Brooklyn by police. Two male activists were separated from the group and released yesterday afternoon. Meanwhile, Lynch and the others-labeled WEF Females 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5-were initially taken to the Brooklyn Naval Yard, only to have the officers discover that facility had been reserved for male protesters.

Next, cops took them to the “Tombs,” a jail in Lower Manhattan, where Lynch said five cells are ready to receive protesters. Those pens will quickly overflow, she said, if police begin rounding people up during weekend demonstrations. Still, the officers seemed excited over their new system for processing protesters. “There were a lot of kinks,” she said. “It was funny to see five people working on putting one wristband on one inmate.”

Lynch said police talked early on about hitting them with serious charges like burglary and breaking and entering. That would be consistent with law enforcement tactics in places like Philadelphia, where Police Commissioner John Timoney rounded up hundreds of demonstrators at the 2000 GOP convention on felony charges that were later drastically reduced. Under Timoney, now a private consultant helping mastermind New York’s enforcement this week, protesters faced bail as high as $1 million-enough to keep them off the streets until the meetings ended.

In the end, Lynch and company were accused only of criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. After they were interrogated and held for a few hours at Manhattan’s Central Booking, police set them free at 4:30 this morning. “They were decent,” she said, “and we kept making the point that you’re decent now, but we hope you’ll still be decent after you’ve arrested your 50th protester.”

In addition to the ACT UP members, a lone man from California was arrested Thursday for spraying graffiti on a Starbucks coffee shop. At noon, a police spokesman said that so far no one else had been arrested.

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