Mammoth Security Force, Aggressive Police Can’t Stop Protestors

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

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
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.

Comments? Story tips?
Write a letter to the editor

Like this? Want more?Subscribe to Utne

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.