It is hard not to believe that yesterday’s illegal and repressive arrest of approximately 200 peaceful sidewalk walkers across the street from Ground Zero was not ordered from the top. And by top I don’t mean Chief Ray Kelly or Mayor Bloomberg. I mean the honchos of the Republican Party.
Maybe they wanted to send a message: stay away from that location during our convention. That’s our prop to use as we see fit.
They obviously didn’t see the tragic irony in what happened. Ground Zero is a sacred piece of land for many Americans, a place where we should rededicate ourselves to the struggle for justice and democracy for all. Ultimately, this is the only defense against the terrorism of the dispossessed or those angered by the USA’s increasingly militaristic and repressive go-it-alone role in the world.
And yet yesterday it was the backdrop for one more demonstration project of 21st century police state tactics.
I was one of those swept up by these arrests. I had gone to Ground Zero with no intention of getting arrested. Fifteen minutes before I was, I had spoken with a friend explaining to her that I just wasn’t moved to do so on this occasion, although I’ve been arrested 10 times in the past for nonviolent civil disobedience actions of some kind.
What I was prepared to do was to walk peacefully on the sidewalk in support of this War Resisters League-initiated action. And when a white-shirted policeman spoke over a bullhorn about 4:00 p.m. telling us that although this demonstration did not have a permit, everything would be OK if we walked in ones and twos on the sidewalk and obeyed traffic signals, the walk began. About 200 of us crossed Church St. headed across Fulton towards Broadway, where we intended to head uptown.
But within a couple of minutes we were stopped by a police line across the middle of the sidewalk and by several rows of police in the street. A few minutes later a four foot high orange mesh fence was rolled out and everyone who happened to be within this half block was trapped, unable to leave.
No warning was ever given that if people did not leave they would be arrested. No opportunities were given to leave despite requests by a number of people to do so. The arrests just started happening as the first paddy wagon rolled up.
Over the course of the next 15 hours that I spent in the holding areas at Pier 57 and 100 Centre St., I would learn of similar, smaller, police state actions. There were the three people who were putting on an anti-Bush skit on the sidewalk on 7th Avenue who were illegally arrested as they exercised their first amendment right to free expression. I was told about six young people who painted their faces white to symbolize sickness and death and who were arrested while riding the subways. There was the man from Istanbul, Turkey who was arrested with me at Ground Zero as he was distributing religious tracts to us peaceniks. The list can go on.
It was not fun being transported in the paddy wagon to Pier 57 with my hands handcuffed behind my back. It was not fun being shut in with 40 other men in a 25 by 15 foot pen with three short hardwood benches and a concrete floor to sit or lie on. It was not fun being forced into a small, caged space on a police bus, handcuffed again, with another arrestee for our bumpy ride from Pier 57 to 100 Centre St. It was not fun being held there in a similar type of holding cell arrangement or getting very little sleep in its bright, noisy and uncomfortable confines.
But it was clear that the dehumanizing and intimidating treatment we received was not having its desired effect. People’s spirits were high and the solidarity among us was palpable. Anger was the dominant emotion among almost all of us, anger at the violation of our rights and the treatment we were given.
I look forward to participation in the certain lawsuit against the city of New York and, I hope, the National Republican Party. These police state actions cannot be allowed to pass without a strong, public response.