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180 arrests, three hours, one Herald Square block

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2004, NEW YORK -- Pagans plop down, about 20 arrests. It’s Tuesday, August 31, the day New-York-based activist coalition A31 has called for decentralized anti-RNC demonstrations to explode all over the city, in places like Herald Square. A pagan cluster had planned to overtake the intersection of 34th Street and Sixth Avenue at 7 p.m. But since the pagans had announced their plans publicly, the cops know what to expect. And at 7:06 p.m., when a score of pagans sit in the trafficked juncture, police quickly nick the obstructionist heathens. Chrys from Albany, a pagan drummer, says it was difficult to coordinate everybody with the heavy police presence. But she didn’t join them because she says, "As a drummer, I think I’m more useful to the cause out here on the sidewalk." Um, okay.

More pagans plop down, no arrests. Forty-three minutes later, more members of the pagan cluster refuse to leave that same corner when police sweep pedestrians off the packed sidewalk. Four men and one woman link arms, sit, and brace themselves. Five policemen size them up and then walk away. One policeman videotapes them crouched there and then leaves. At 8:07 p.m., they’re still there, arms not linked anymore. Their sidewalk area is still barricaded off to other pedestrians. At 8:16 p.m., they stand up nervously. Nothing happens. They sit down again. At 8:18 p.m. one lights a cigarette. At 8:20 p.m., they’re so bored they chant with demonstrators on another corner. At 8:21 p.m., they’re still there. No one notices.

Hooded prisoners block buses, seven or eight arrests. After darkness settles, seven or eight activists representing Save Our Civil Liberties don Abu Ghraib-style dusky hoods and plunk down in the intersection of 35th Street and Sixth Avenue, blocking a long line of charter buses. Led by Gan Golan, a graduate student studying "police response to mass protest" at MIT, Save Our Civil Liberties activists performed this similar stunt in the protests pens at the DNC, to draw similarities between Abu Ghraib and the protest pen. But this time, Golan had said earlier, they’re trying to draw attention to the kinds of unjust oppression the Bush administration is spreading around the world. Police cart the demonstrators off individually, as 50 or 60 spectators intone, "The whole world is watching!" Golan won’t walk so the cops carry him like a wheel barrel.

Bodies obstruct a street, 150 arrests. The Save Our Civil Liberties’ stunt inspired another mob of demonstrators, who’d been chanting anti-Republican epithets and banging things a block away, to seize that same intersection. No more than 15 minutes later, a raucous 150-person mob inundates 35th Street heading to Sixth Avenue, yelling things like the populist refrain, "Ain’t no power like the power of the people because the power of the people don’t stop!" and trying to reclaim the intersection with the demand: "Whose streets? Our streets!"

Ten minutes later, they reverse on 35th Street in a rout. Cops, billy-clubs in hand and helmet-shields flipped down, briskly follow. As the throng starts to run, a commanding officer hollers nervously: "No more of this walking! Anyone who’s still in the streets is getting locked up! Get on the sidewalk!" By this time, marchers can’t really go anywhere. They’re trapped: NYPD mopeds are on one side, while police stand on the other. A cop snags one young woman who tries to head back to Herald Square. "Go this way." His way means jail.

Once people realize they’ve been caught, minor scuffles erupt. Cops tackle a dark-skinned protestor in Tevas and haul him away. Then they capture another, a young man with red Chucks and a gas mask who's yelling "Dissent isn’t violent!" Then they take 15 more. 35 more. 100 more. Assembled on the concrete, hands cuffed behind their backs, they spell their names for a Legal Observer jotting notes on the sidelines. Jason H-A-M-O-ND. Daniel "Write down that I wasn’t doing anything" Eades. Emily Sloan. Susana Berger. A few National Lawyers’ Guild Legal Observers get nabbed, possibly even a journalist from Mother Jones. By the time all 150 have been cuffed, people are smiling. Nothing else to do, really -- except joke around with future cellmates.

Around 9:45 p.m., police Chief Michael Collins answers reporters’ questions. Everyone here, he explained, would be charged with disorderly conduct. Today, about 800 people had been detained; in total, about 1000 protesters had been arrested. And within the last three hours, more than 10 percent of all the arrests so far had happened in the last three hours, on this block beside Herald Square.

Issue Date: September 1, 2004
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