Volume 74, Number 19 | September 08 - 14 , 2004

EDITORIAL


Police did their job, but what was the cost?

The Republican National Convention is over and for that we’re glad. The convention did a monumental job of tying up Midtown and otherwise inconveniencing New Yorkers. And the much-touted expected economic boon of the convention hasn’t panned out from what we hear. Lastly, it was simply galling and hard to stomach to see our city and the 9/11 attacks used as backdrop for President’s Bush’s reelection campaign and justification for the war on Iraq, which many here do not support.

However, the city was kept safe, and for that we must salute Mayor Bloomberg and the New York Police Department. Terror attacks and W.T.O.-type protester violence never occurred. This was the upside of the policing effort, which was in the planning for a year.

Yet, now that it is all finished, it’s time to review police tactics that were used, some of which, according to civil rights attorneys, were a departure from the norm.

First of all, there is the issue of so-called preemptive arrests. Tues. Aug. 31 was the day a group called the A 31 Action Coalition had called for direct action, or civil disobedience in the streets. Although police deny their tactics were any different on that day, it so happens that 1,200 of the 1,800-plus arrests made during the convention occurred on four hours on Aug. 31.

The police are saying the protesters involved in these unpermitted Aug. 31 marches and events were guilty of disorderly conduct violation for blocking streets or sidewalks. However, in many cases, the police told the marchers to get on the sidewalk, then penned them and arrested them.

Caught in the plastic, orange nets police used were a number of people not associated with the protests, just in the wrong spot at the wrong time.

The protesters were held first at Pier 57, a makeshift holding pen. Why this pier was not fixed up to provide even a modicum of habitability is unclear. If there was, indeed, oil soaked into the floor — not surprising for a former bus depot — why wasn’t some sort of plastic adhesive surface put down, especially since there were so few benches, forcing people to sleep on the floor?

Above all, the fact that some of the protesters were held for up to 50 hours represents a civil rights violation in New York State, under which a person being detained must be arraigned of their charges within 24 hours. Although the city says this was due to a processing backlog, it seems the city wanted to keep these protesters off the streets as long as possible.

First Amendment rights of free speech and free assembly are what set our country apart from so many around the world. However, these rights can be eroded — it starts slowly and around the edges, such as in police arrests and detentions. While we’re glad the police kept us safe during the convention, we feel that a full investigation of police tactics pertaining to the protester arrests is warranted. No one should be detained in substandard conditions such as those at Pier 57 — and certainly not for twice the legal time limit.

And next time, please — get the prisoners some fresh bologna sandwiches.

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