Prisoners detained at the
Republican National Convention, 2004
in New York City
My illegal arrest and detainment, RNC, NY
by Cathie Bell
August 31, 2004
I was one of 1,800+ people who were arrested during the Republican National Convention (RNC) protests. I was arrested on Tuesday evening at 7:00 pm and not released until Thursday at 4:10 pm for doing nothing more than exercising my first amendment constitutional rights! I was illegally detained for 45 hours during which time I was not informed of the charges against me (my arresting officer said he did not know what I was being charged with), I was never read my rights and denied access to a lawyer until the 42nd hour.
On the evening of my arrest, I was standing on East 16th Street during a spontaneous protest. There were several hundred people protesting and several hundred observing--many people on the street were innocent bystanders simply walking through the street on their way home. The police moved onto the sidewalk at both the east and west ends of the street using wire netting to hem the crowd in at one end and a troop of police, many in riot gear at the other. Police directed the crowd to keep moving in one direction while assuring us (on the sidewalk at least) that we would be permitted to pass. When the crowd was completely hemmed in, we were told to sit down and again assured we would be 'released' after the police gained control.
Several protesters were picked out of the crowd and handcuffed, a few suffered police brutality; musical instruments were smashed by angry police. After this show of force, boxes of plastic handcuffs were opened and police proceeded to handcuff ALL the people on the block. After about 3 hours, we were shuffled onto city busses and taken to a make-shift internment camp at Pier 57, known as Guantanamo on the Hudson. I asked one officer why he was not out fighting terrorism, he replied, "you ARE the terrorists."
We were held in busses during the unloading process, which took over an hour. Inside 'Guantanamo' we were directed into a large wire cage with razor-wire, until we were assigned sex-specific individual cages (also headed with razor-wire). Each cage contained a few metal benches and two portable toilets, each was extremely overcrowded so most people, tired and exhausted were forced to sit and sleep on filthy floors. This former bus repair depot was still drenched in diesel-oil, the stench of strong chemicals burned our eyes and what looked like open asbestos stanchions could be seen. After 15 hours, all people were coated with black soot, complained of eye and sinus irritations as well as skin rashes and some open sores began appearing. The police ignored constant requests for medical attention despite loud chanting, cage rattling and other jail solidarity tactics. Medical assistance was offered hours later.
We were then handcuffed again and taken via a corrections vehicle to our new destination--the corrections facility at 100 Center Street. After passing through metal detectors and patted down by officers, we were lead to group cells where we were fed (a slice of cheese on white bread)and settled down on tiled floors and metal benches. For the next 27 hours we were shuffled from one cell to another, fingerprinted, photographed and consistently promised imminent release. In all fairness, two of the 13 cells I 'visited' had thin plastic mats that could hold 8 tightly positioned sleeping bodies--most people slept on the floor or benches. All the cells were cold with loud, large fans adding to our discomfort--blankets were delivered on Thursday morning at 6 am.
Although there was a significant presence of thug-like police inside the facility, many officers were openly sympathetic. Many thanked us, some applauded as we were paraded single-file out of the internment camp and some voiced their outrage; one police officer told us to settle down for a few days because it was the intention of our city government to keep us off the streets throughout the RNC. One police officer described the usual treatment of prisoners, comparing that to our "humane" treatment--we were the lucky ones. All the sympathizers I questioned said they were just following orders! Although I am very grateful to these officers for their kindness and open support, I question at what point will they stop just following orders?
On the 42nd hour, I spoke with a court-appointed lawyer who told me the courts were deliberately slowing the process of our release. Finally, I entered my 'not guilty' plea in front of the judge. I am a 55 year old mother with two grown daughters, have lived in the same apartment for 23 years, have a master's degree in education, currently sell real estate in the city and have no prior arrest record so I was not deemed a flight risk and released on my own recognizance.
Outside the courthouse, we were all greeted by hundreds of cheering supporters and people of conscience, friends and family members, legal representatives from The National Lawyers Guild, the press, cigarettes, food, holistic medical support and advice. Throughout our long ordeal, hundreds of people could be heard singing, chanting and demanding our release. I understand many people did 24 hour vigils and all thanked us for our service to the movement. I thank all of them for their support, kindness, and service to the movement.
Although my arrest was a health hazzard, uncomfortable, and inconvenient, I feel empowered through all the wonderful people I met 'inside,' the kind police officers who offered support and the hundreds of greeters 'outside.' I am now even more committed to the movement to change the direction our country is heading and halt the U.S.-lead war on freedom everywhere!