Zachary Miller

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Author’s Note: I wrote this on the day after my release from NYC jail, while sitting on a bench
in an airport in Denmark and waiting for the rest of the CU Wireless crew to fly in from Chicago.
We are attending a weeklong conference about international applications of community wireless
technology and implementing community wireless networks in the developing world.
On Tu e s d a y, August 31st and We d n e s d a y, September 1st, I spent an unexpected 23 hours in jail
without access to lawyers and limited access to a telephone; I rode on 2 prison buses, was transferred
between 9 different cells, put in handcuffs 4 times, and fed nothing but 3 stale white bread sandwiches
(2 with cheese and 1 with some foul green and purple splotchy bologna-like meat product).
The charges against us, parading without a permit and disorderly conduct (impeding the flow of
pedestrian and vehicular traffic), were ordinance violations, not crimes. The sorts of things that on
any regular day a cop would write you a ticket for and send you on your way. But in this case the
NYC police department decided to use these laws as a pretext for rounding up hundreds of protesters
and getting us off the street before some theoretical subset of us did some actual crimes. T h e
anticipated crimes were things like the 20 or so folks who planned to lay down in the street near
Madison Square Garden, staging a “die-in” to draw attention to the global deaths caused by the Bush
administration. The police marked possessions like bandannas to use as evidence that some protesters
were “anarchists”, which of course means they are more dangerous and probably should get
higher bail.
Everyone at the Pier that night would start cheering and singing and chanting as each group of
20, 50, or 100 protesters was brought in, growing louder as the population rose. It was pretty beautiful.
When we weren’t cheering we were having spirited political discussions about the pros and
cons of direct action and civil disobedience, how to adapt to the changing police tactics, and about
the differences and motivations for our different political orientations. This protest drew Deaniacs,
Naderites, Greens, Anarchists, and regular every day rank and file Kerry/Democratic Party supporters.
Most of those arrested were “non-radicals”. Most were in jail for their first time. Many had
no intention of engaging in civil disobedience.
I found this to be a great environment for education. These folks were all poised on the edge of
radicalism. They were all intrigued to learn that I was an anarchist. I don’t fit the profile. I hadn’t
been advocating for violence. How could I be a Green Politician, the picture of non-violent hippieness,
arrested for my first time, and call myself an anarchist? And where in these cells full of
priests and businesspeople and workers and hippies and bicyclists and journalists were all the
pink haired freaks? Where in the peaceful march along the sidewalk were the Molotov throwing,
paint-wielding, havoc wreaking anarchists? Oh, do you mean that they’ve been lying to us? T h a t
the police don’t always play by the rules? That anarchists do have legitimate political ideas? T h a t
hordes of pink haired bandanna masked youths weren’t coming to burn down the town? Oh, and
getting arrested isn’t an end in and of itself for these civilly disobedient rebels, that the civil lawsuits
afterwards are part of the strategy to deepen and enhance first amendment freedoms through
precedent? That the press exposure during and after our arrest is part of the strategy? Oh huh…and
I’d never really thought of the whole system as working in the interests of profit and the powerful
people who control it, or that Democrats have also done an awful lot of bad things on the world
stage. If hundreds of new radical activists were not born that night, at least I hope that I had a part
in spurring their thinking.
After 12 hours at the Pier, some of us were transferred to Central Booking, known to locals as
The Tombs.We saw nearly every one of the 25 or so floors of this building during our stay.We were
searched, put in cells, transferred to other cells, searched again, fingerprinted, digitally photographed,
handcuffed, interviewed by EMS workers about our medical state.We didn’t actually see
the doctors until we’d been in the tombs for about 8 hours, about 16 hours too late for the 60 year old
man who suffered from chronic pain and didn’t have enough meds, the heroin addictwho was going
through withdrawal and needed methadone, or countless others who were suffering without any
help from their captors). We had access to phones in some cells but not others—where the phones
were simply broken and we were not given the option of using working phones in other cells. We
had to pay to use the phones in all but one of the cells that we passed through. All calls were monitored
by nearby guards and on the free call the name and number of the person called was recorded.
We were interviewed by social workers from some unidentified government organization who
asked about where we lived, where we worked, how much money we made, and who could confirm
all of this. Supposedly, this information would be used to determine whether we could be
released with or without bail but in the end bail was irrelevant because most of us didn’t end up
with court dates. Supposedly, the fingerprints that were taken were an inquiry against the fingerprint
system and would not create a “record” for us. However upon further questioning of the officers
in charge, we learned that the fingerprinting would create an ID entry in the FBI’s fingerprint
database system. No criminal record would be attached to it but for now and forever our fingerprints
would be associated with our names, birthdays, and current addresses.
After a day or so of sleep deprivation it is pretty hard to remember what you want to ask your
lawyer and get it all said and figured out before you go before a judge a few minutes later. Luckily,
the National Lawyers Guild rocked the courthouse and most of us were released ACD (Adjourned
Contemplating Dismissal) which means that the case was set aside, and if we didn’t get arrested in
the next 6 months it would be as if the case never even existed. If we did get arrested again in the
next 6 months the case would simply come to trial and because we did nothing wrong we would
almost certainly be found not guilty anyway. So there is no need to return to NYC for a trial—they
certainly weren’t going to be able to try 1500 people that same day so if we hadn’t gotten ACD
we’d have gotten a notice to appear just so we could come back and win our innocence.
My stuff is still all in New York City. My digital video camera, my digital camera, my cell
phone, my MP3 recorder, my backpack, and numerous other small stuff. All told there’s probably
around $1000 worth of stuff in a plastic bag in a police trailer in Manhattan that belongs to me. I’ll
have to send a notarized letter to a friend in New York City in the next 120 days authorizing them
to pick up my stuff. If I wanted to get my stuff directly I’d have had to sit in line for three to four
hours and then I would have missed my plane to Denmark.

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