NEW YORK - For the 30 to 40 anti-war activists who took part in a "die-in" on Broadway last week, the event was a textbook example of civil disobedience.
"It was magical," said 46-year-old Clare Grady. The white-clad peace warriors lay down in the middle of one of the world's most famous streets, and for a few blissful moments invited spectators to contemplate a world without war. Then the police played their part, surrounding the group and arresting them.
"It was very peaceful," said theatre director Mahayana Landowne, 36, at a police detention center where hundreds of people spent the night of August 31. Protesters and non-protesters alike, including this journalist for Agence France-Presse, were caught up in the wave of arrests that netted nearly 2,000 over the four days of the Republican National Convention. "They circled us and told everyone to leave. There were lots of photographers, people in the street. Protesters sang to us during the 'die-in' and the arrests," she said.
The event had unfolded so smoothly that she and the others initially assumed that all the hundreds of detainees crowded into pens topped with razor wire at Pier 57, a bus depot on Manhattan's lower west side, had also willingly submitted to arrest.
Forty-five-year-old Mary Round said: "I felt like such a jerk" when she realized that a majority of the detainees clearly had not intended to be arrested on the day of civil disobedience called by the War Resisters' League, a movement founded in 1923 in the wake of World War I.
Among them was German tourist Sandra Zimmerle, who found herself in New York on the final leg of an exhilarating four-month trip around the world when the city was in the throes of the Republican National Convention and the wave of protests it invited.
The wide-eyed 20-year-old from Munich was visiting Ground Zero -- site of the destruction of the World Trade Center three years ago -- when she found herself among protesters gathering to march up Broadway. She was among some 200 people hemmed in by police on a sidewalk within minutes of the start of the march when an officer suddenly shouted to them, "You're all under arrest" and ordered his forces to "arrest them all."
"It just happened so chaotically," said Blossom Nicinski, who works for JP Morgan bank, recalling how police urged demonstrators on one end of the sidewalk to proceed, while at the other end police were blocking them.
A similar scenario played out at a protest outside New York Public Library. "It was so planned out. They wanted to arrest as many people as possible," said 24-year-old Sarah Long. "As soon as some anarchists draped a flag over one of the (bronze) lions, the cops swooped in and arrested them. (Then) the police came and cornered us towards the street. We were trying to disperse, but they wouldn't let us. They were trapping actual pedestrians. It was really scary. They told us to sit down, so we sat down and that became an act of defiance."
Another German visitor who landed herself a night in jail was I.P., who was passing near Union Square when she caught sight of a new acquaintance taking part in a protest and sought him out in the crowd.
"I just met him on Sunday. I walked with him for just a couple of meters (before they were arrested). So that's how I got into all this."
Lyric singer Sylvie Jensen was walking home when she found herself caught up in the arrests, saying: "There were just people crisscrossing through the melee."
Jensen had singing practice scheduled for the following day, but feared her throat would be too sore after the night in rough conditions at Pier 57, where 800-square-foot pens were erected on a grimy concrete floor, with up to 100 people crowded into the space.
Benches in each pen could accommodate 18 people sitting. Others sat or lay on the floor, allowing their clothes to be blackened by the grime. Many slept, but most just took cat naps. Most stood, mingled or paced for most of the night, cheering on each new wave of detainees as they were escorted into the cavernous center.
"I think it's unfair," said Elisa Gomera, 21, a student majoring in education and photography who was drawn to a protest near Union Square as an opportunity to hone her photographic skills. "It's disgusting and it's inhumane."
Many had bruises or welts from the plastic handcuffs, which stayed on even during the trip in a police bus to the detention center. The handcuffs came on again for the trip in a paddy wagon -- divided into three locked cages -- to the Central Booking Office for their arraignment. During processing there, detainees were transferred from one part of the building to another shackled to each other at the wrist in groups of five.
Throughout the ordeal, the mainly paper-based processing procedures consumed endless hours as police working multiple overtime were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people involved.
Police tasked with the arrests and detentions were generally tight-lipped, but their frustration showed. One said as detainees cliimbed into a paddy wagon: "They come in clean and come out black" (from the filthy floor at Pier 57).
At Central Booking, when asked how many arrests had been made over the long sleepless night, one replied with a grunt: "A stupid number."
Another said the facility had been repainted, and the floors had been waxed "just for you," but suggested: "They should have used the money for repainting these walls to clean those floors" at the Pier 57 detention center.
After the ordeal of 24 hours for most detainees and twice that for some, they appeared before a black-robed judge in Central Booking's courtroom, whose elegance and gentility were a jolting contrast to the stark yellow-painted "female holding cells" elsewhere in the building.
Most were released after agreeing to "stay out of trouble" for the next six months or face prosecution for disorderly conduct.
Gina Doggett (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an American journalist with Agence France-Presse, based in Paris, who was caught up in last week's arrests in New York