Sarah Kanouse, Zoe Ginsburg, Colleen Cook and Arun Bahlla

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Zoe Ginsburg, a 16 year old Urbana resident and student at University
High School, was held for 37 hours before being released at 5:30 AM on
Thursday morning. When she asked an officer what she was being
charged with, the officer replied that she did not know. Zoe and other UCIMC
members Zach Miller of Urbana, Colleen Cook of Champaign, Arun
Bhalla of Champaign, and Sarah Kanouse of Chicago were never formally
informed of their arrest charges but were assured by their arresting officers
that they would be released before the next morning. None of the
group was set free before Wednesday afternoon, and Sarah Kanouse, the
last of the group to be released, left the New York Criminal Court at 6:45
pm on Thursday, after being in custody for over 50 hours.
On August 31, over 1000 people were swept up in massive arrests,
h a n d c u ffed, fingerprinted, photographed, and held in custody—overwhelming
a system that usually handles 200-300 arrests per day and triggering
a massive backlog that caused delays in the arraignment process.
The demonstrators were initially taken by the busload to Pier 57, a
makeshift holding pen in a warehouse quickly dubbed “Guantanamo on the
Hudson” by prisoners and the media alike. As many as 90 prisoners at a
time were held in 20 by 40 foot pens made with 15 foot chain-link fencing
capped with razor wire. The three benches in the pens were far too small to
seat all the prisoners, who were forced to sit or sleep on the bare floor. Tw o
port-a-potties serviced each cell, which filled quickly during the lengthy
holding period, which for many prisoners exceeded 18 hours. Most of the
penswere not supplied with trash disposal, and the cells filled quickly with
stale, half-eaten sandwiches, crushed paper cups and empty milk cartons.
When the media received word of the conditions at Pier 57 and
arranged a photo opportunity after the prisoners were transferred, the
police department attempted to conceal the conditions by thoroughly
mopping the floor and laying new carpet. While a few demonstrators
received plastic sheeting to lie down, the vast majority were offered nothing
and emerged from Pier 57 covered in fine, black grit. A large number
of arrestees received rashes and blisters, and still more reported severe
headaches, sore throats and hacking coughs in the hours and days following
their transfer. Medics who treated demonstrators upon their release
recommended that they first take cold showers to avoid absorbing the substances
from the Pier 57 floor and were taking clothing samples to analyze
the composition of the greasy grit.
Excruciating delays in arraignment not only wore down the prisoners’
health and energy but also kept many demonstrators off the street for more
than two days. Lawyers and protesters believe that the delays were
designed to prevent people from exercising their free speech rights during
the convention and voicing their opposition during Bush’s acceptance
speech on Thursday. Norman Siegel of the National Lawyer’s Guild,
which represented thousands of arrestees, alleged, “The city of New York
attempted to ‘lose’the people currently held in central booking until after
Bush gave his speech tonight, after which they would miraculously be
‘found.’” Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union issued
a statement regarding police tactics. “The pre-emptive arrests; preventive
detentions and dangerous conditions at Pier 57 and massive surveillance
of lawful protest activity undermined the right to dissent. The department’s
practices were inconsistent and its standards were unclear from
day-to-day. As a result, perfectly lawful actions could result in an arrest on
any given day and time. That stifles dissent and political debate.”
A common refrain of both the police and the New York media was that
if someone attends a demonstration, she or he should expect to get arrested.
One of the corrections officers who expressed sympathy with the protesters’
cause added, “Of course if you’re going to protest, you’ve got to
expect that this will happen.” But to the demonstrators, this seems like a
backwards way to look at the detention. If free speech and free assembly
are among our most important constitutionally guaranteed rights, people
should not be expected to spend two days behind bars as a price exacted
for voicing their conscience.

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