At a press conference on Wednesday morning on the West Side Highway—just opposite the warehouse detention center that activists have dubbed “Guantanamo on the Hudson”—activists simultaneously denounced and exulted at the extraordinary number of people who have been arrested protesting the Republican Convention: 1200 on Tuesday, nearly 1800 over the week.
That’s the largest number of arrests in the history of party conventions, they noted, and coming on the heals of the hundreds of thousands who marched on Sunday, the strongest show of dissent ever mounted against a president.
But now comes the familiar litany of stories of abuse in jail, people denied access to lawyers, locked up for no reason or held for unnecessarily long stays. Bails have gone as high as $200,000 (for the kid nabbed during Sunday’s puppet burning incident), while protesters are being taken to the hospital for skin reactions and asthma attacks from the chemicals and diesel soaked into the concrete floor at the Pier 57 detention center, a former bus depot, where reports are that as many as 40 protesters at a time had been crammed into the 10′ by 20′ pens covered in wire mesh.
At a news conference, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly dismissed the protesters’ complaints, saying the air quality at the center had been tested and found safe. Kelly maintained that most protesters were transferred to Central Booking within 90 minutes, with the longest stays being eight hours there.
“He’s either grossly misinformed or that’s a baldfaced lie,” counters Bruce Bentley of the National Lawyers Guild, who accused the city of “deliberately slowing down the processing in order to suppress dissent and keep people from protesting” Thursday night, when Bush delivers his acceptance speech at the convention. Bentley said protesters have reported spending an average of 12 hours at the pier and much longer in Central Booking, and noted that many bystanders—including several nuns, legal observers, and a New York Times reporter—were among those held.
David Duvant, a 23-year-old student from Montreal who got swept up outside the New York Public Library on Tuesday, was released just this morning. He says he spent a total of 57 hours between the pier and Central Booking, during which time he says he was moved 14 times and repeatedly handcuffed and shackled to other protesters as young as 15. His crime: disorderly conduct, a charge that normally warrants a desk appearance ticket.
On Thursday afternoon, a judge ordered the city to immediately release 470 protesters, including some who had been waiting arraignment for three days.
“These people have already been the victims of a process,” State Supreme Court Judge John Cataldo told the city’s top lawyer. “I can no longer accept your statement that you are trying to comply.” But at press time, reports were that the city was continuing to stall.
Among those who gathered outside the court house at 100 Centre Street were angry parents and Andre 3000 of Outkast, pissed that a member of his group was still in jail. Earlier today, 55 detainees in Central Booking launched a hunger strike to protest conditions at Pier 57 and their extended detentions. They include several bystanders caught up in the sweeps.
Meanwhile, the streets are still charged, and people are still marching and finding all sorts of ways to show their dissent. Last night a Code Pink lady zapped Dick Cheney during his speech, briefly unfurling a banner near the stage that read “Cheney And Halliburton Make A Killing Off Iraq.” A dozen ACT UP members also got inside the convention, and 20 more were busted for dropping a banner and chaining themselves to the information booth in Grand Grand Central Station this morning. Bush was greeted with protests in Queens last night, and expect more noise tonight, when thousands hit the streets to shout “No!” at 9:30 p.m. when “King George” is scheduled to give his acceptance speech.
There’s yet another call to “reclaim” the streets for democracy. Starting at 8 p.m. at Union Square, there will be a candlelight vigil and “drums, street theatre skits, good vibes, free food and free speech.”