Spinning the Wheel of Incarceration


I think the police they send to protests are selected for their rather dry, black senses of humor. A few lefty friends came down to Washington to stay with me during the last WTO protests, and one of them was swept up in a mass arrest for "failure to obey an order to disperse." Nobody, of course, had heard any such order, and if they had it would've been impossible to comply, because they were fenced in by walls of truncheon-brandishing blue boys in riot gear. (The arrestees were marching without a permit, but apparently you can't arrest people for that—failure to obey a police order to disperse, however, is an arrestable offense)

So I wasn't exactly surprised to arrive at Ground Zero yesterday for the War Resisters League march and find similarly arbitrary tactics in effect. As I approach the former home of the World Trade Center, I pass a long line of protesters marching two-by-two up the sidewalk, many bearing placards with the names of people killed in U.S. military actions. Some of them tell me that a few hundred of their number are in the process of being arrested at Church and Fulton. What were those protesters doing that the rest weren't? Why are some allowed to march and some locked up? Nobody's quite sure; apparently a line was drawn in the pavement, so to speak, and some folks were selected for arrest.

I'm arriving a little late to the ball, but Jeff Green of Danbury, CT, Indymedia fills me in: "I didn't hear any warning; a guy in a white shirt with lots of brass on his chess started yelling at the front of the line, some people with a banner. Then they pushed them back, cleared the media out, and came running down the stree with orange barricades." Patrick Lloyd from the New York Civil Liberties Union is observing, and he and his partner are rolling their eyes at the situation—which, fortunately, is quite nonviolent, WRL being a pacifist group—they say the arrestees are charged with marching more than two abreast, taking up too much of the sidewalk, but that the cops corralled them in without giving them any opportunity (indeed, making it impossible for them) to spread out more. Michael, a 50-year-old with curly greying hair, is fuming: "They told them it was OK to go ahead and march, and then as soon as they got them across the street they rounded them up; it was a set-up. Look at these people: 50 year old ladies! They were very orderly." They continue to be pretty orderly as they're loaded onto large busses and hauled away.