NEW YORK - August 31 - "Theyre arresting everybody," said War Resisters League Treasurer John M. Miller over his cell phone.
He was speaking from Ground Zero, where WRLs August 31 protest had begun an hour earlier. Along with many other antiwar groups, WRL had planned a nonviolent civil disobedience protest against Bush administration policies.
The WRL action was to begin with a legal vigil at Ground Zero, followed by a processionmarching two by two, which is legal anywhere in this country, with or without a permitfrom Ground Zero to Union Square and then on to Madison Square Garden. Once there, those who chose to risk arrest planned to hold a die-in representing the cost of the Iraq war in general and, in particular, the dead of Iraq and the United States.
The protesters never left Ground Zero. As soon as they attempted to begin their march, the police, after warning them not to block the sidewalks, cordoned them off so that they couldnt help blocking the sidewalk. Then, without giving any order to disperse or risk arrest, they began the arrests. As of 5:45, they had arrested approximately 200including press and legal observers carrying ID identifying them as nonparticipants.
"We thought the First Amendment guaranteed our right to march," said Frida Berrigan of the WRL National Committee. "We had planned something where those who wanted to risk arrest could do so and others could support them doing something that was perfectly legal. But apparently the New York City Police Department has canceled the First Amendment for this week."
Bruce Bentley, of the National Lawyers Guild, which is representing the demonstrators, called the illegal arrests "another example of police misconduct during this past week."
Berrigan herself was not arrested and at this writing is continuing with the next phase of the protest, marching toward Union Square, where, demonstrators report, a large police presence is gathered awaiting the protesters.