NEW YORK -- Activists who had hungered all week for a victory in their cold war against the New York Police Department and the massive security force that engulfed this city like a plague during the Republican National Convention finally notched a couple symbolic wins on its final day.
Outside the gala, anti-Bush protestors gathered at the Criminal Courts Building celebrated judge John Cataldo's decision to hold the city in contempt and fine the NYPD $1,000 for every demonstrator jailed during the week without charges who had not been released by 6 p.m., Thursday. The crowd congregated near Centre Street to show solidarity with their fellow activists who had been arrested for protesting the Convention and held, sometimes for as many as 60 hours in sickly, unsanitary conditions at Pier 57 or in the Criminal Courts Building.
'There was a big crowd of protestors in the courtroom who weren't allowed to cheer because it was a court environment, but after my hearing took about 30 seconds, I turned around and they all gave me a thumbs up and a smile,' said John Cheatwood, an activist who traveled here from Florida and missed his ride home because of his incarceration that lasted almost two days. When Cheatwood exited onto the street he was met by cheers and well-wishers. 'It really helped being in there knowing that all of these people were out here fighting for us. We weren't just forgotten.'
Upwards of 2,000 detainees, some of whom were not protesting, simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and corralled into the NYPD's orange netting during numerous police roundups, were forced to sleep on cement floors reeking of oil, other chemicals, and asbestos in the now infamous pier on the Hudson River, and given mostly stale bologna sandwiches to eat during their ordeal. Many, though, were vegetarians.
The incarcerated found other uses for the paltry food. They reportedly played soccer, using the bologna sandwiches as goalposts and paper cups rolled up into soccer balls. Singing and dancing also helped keep up their spirits.
A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union explained to the crowd waiting outside the Courts Building for the release of their friends and family that the detainees essentially 'didn't exist' and 'had no rights as citizens' until they were formally charged by the city. Once they regained their rights as citizens, some protestors faced prosecutors for as few as fourteen seconds before they were released onto the street, uncharged.
The anti-Bush army registered another victory inside Madison Square Garden on Thursday night as two members of the feminist, anti-war group, Code Pink, evaded the secret service's Iron Curtain grip on security and found strategic seats. Jodie Evans was in the press section under a giant Fox News skybox, and June Brashares, also affiliated with the group Global Exchange, made it to the arena floor, sitting with the California delegation a mere 50 feet from George W. Bush. According to plan, they waited until Bush mentioned Iraq in his nomination acceptance speech, as the clock ticked toward 11 p.m., and then made their move -- first Brashares, then Evans.
Brashares had been waving an American flag and yelling in support of the Republicans all night, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, when she suddenly jumped up on her chair that California Governor Pete Wilson had vacated for her, and yelled 'Bush Lies' while touting a homemade banner. Shortly thereafter, Evans removed her dress to reveal a pink slip and the words Fire Bush -- Women say bring the troops home now. Each was drowned out by the crowd chanting 'Four More Years' at an inopportune moment in Bush's speech.
Within seconds Evans and Brashares were tackled by beefy secret service agents as if the women were running toward the end zone with oblong pigskins in their hands. Both were dragged out of the arena immediately, arrested and held overnight. Evans left her purse, her cell phone, and her shoe behind in the scuffle, but, more importantly, made her mark on the evening. Though brief, the disruption poked a symbolic hole in the Republicans' belief that they could hold their convention in New York City and avoid all dissent within their gala.
Calling the secret service's tactics this week strong-handed would be a gross understatement. Time and again the feds employed an aggressive, football mentality to deal with dissenters who found a way into Madison Square Garden -- not to harm anyone, but to exercise the First Amendment. Under the guise of preventing terrorist attacks, the men with phone cords protruding from their left ears were given free reign to treat others as they liked.
Code Pink founder Gael Murphy, who snuck into the Garden on Wednesday only to be tackled by security, worried that Brashares would be charged with assault for simply trying to break free from her assailants.
This journalist was also assaulted and detained by feds and ultimately escorted out of the convention center by five cops on Wednesday night, for merely trying to enter the arena floor with a pass that confined him to the perimeter of the Garden.
In the end, the secret service will not face any repercussion for their over-paranoid, brute tactics in New York this week. On the other hand, the law brought the NYPD to its knees with its verdict at the Criminal Courts Building in lower Manhattan. And the symbolic right to free speech had won out over the feds.
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