Republican Party's Little Guantanamo at Pier 57

7 September 2004 - 10:00am

The Hudson River view at the end of "Little Guantanamo" or Pier 57 NYC

by Erin Starr, Makawao, Maui, Hawaii on 4 September 2004

Hello, supporters of peace.  Here's an update on my daughter, Summer Starr, and her ordeal as a prisoner in NYC during the Republican Convention -- in the Republican Party lockdown at Little Guantanamo at Pier 57. Summer is now free and back in Hawaii. She was on channel 9 TV last night, interviewed as she stepped off the plane from New York--  she spoke of the "inhumane conditions" of pier 57-- many professors at the University of Hawaii are outraged that Governor Linda Lingle apparently knew of the atrocities but did nothing to help the students, putting her own political ambitions before the health and safety of young citizens of her state.

My 21-year old daughter disappeared from NYC last Tuesday afternoon when walking with friends through a park where no protest was being held -- and was held prisoner -- without being charged -- by the NYPD for three days. The first day and night she spent in an unsafe and inhumane facility at Pier 57 ("Little Guantanamo") provided by the Republican Party.  Yes, it was managed by the Republican National Committe.  It was leased by the RNC to hold political dissenters who disagreed with the Bush administration.

The second two days, my daughter was in a city jail in Manhattan, where her treatment improved. She practices Buddhist precepts of compassion (she told the NYPD officers that she knew they must be tired and overworked also, and she did not resist arrest). She is a graduate student in Poli Sci at the University of Hawaii and is a Mortar Board honor society/service club member.

The notorious Pier 57 (owned by the Hudson River Trust--a city/state consortium) was dubbed "Little Guantanamo" by reporters who also got caught up in police sweeps and who said it looked like the Guantanamo Bay prison built by the USA to hold the Al Qaeda terrorist political prisoners in Cuba.  Pier 57 was leased by the RNC before their convention.  They arranged for the NYPD to put up the chain link holding pens with razor wire on top in the old Pier 57 warehouse that had oil, gas and asbestos dust on the floor from a previous fire.

My heart was in my throat when I got a call from one of my daughter's friends on Oahu who told me she had been arrested and taken to Little Guantanamo.  I looked it up on the internet and fear crept into me.  I called my daughter's cell phone over and over ("it's mom, where ARE you, call me").  She didn't answer.

Only hours before, she had been calling us with joy, telling us of the peaceful protests and beautiful march. But now, nothing. I had nightmarish visions of a fire sweeping over the combustible floor with hundreds -- nearly a thousand -- trapped in the chainlink pens, razor wire on the top of the pens making escape impossible. My husband called the NYPD to ask who had issued a Certificate of Occupancy or Fire Safety Inspection Certificateand who was managing Pier 57. He was given the number for the Republican National Committee. Yes. My husband and I looked at each other in silent, cold horror.

The side of Pier 57 runs the length of an oceanliner on Manhattan's west side

In America? The Republicans have set up a private detention camp for their political prisoners that can hold 1000 under inhumane and unsafe conditions!? My husband slowly dialed that number, got the RNC, and the Republican rep who answered the phone said, in answer to my husbands' inquiries about safety: "those protesters don't deserve a Holiday Inn, and they're all criminals anyway!"  ....Say what?!  My daughter, who doesn't smoke or drink or do drugs and is a practicing Buddhist Vegan? A criminal? 

Warning signs that reporters saw posted around Pier 57 said not to enter without protective clothing and mask. My exhausted daughter, with hundreds of others, tried to sleep that first night ...on the chemical-covered oily, cold cement floor of these pens, without food or water, without being read her rights, without being offered a chance to post bail, without seeing a judge although the National Lawyers Guild offered to represent them pro bono, without being charged or told why she was arrested and handcuffed and taken there, without being allowed to make a call to a lawyer or friend or parent or anyone -- all cell phones were confiscated as "terrorist weapons." Her purse was taken. She had nothing but the clothes on her back. Meanwhile...ordinary criminals arrested that same day in NYC for burglary, rape and heinous crimes were processed by the courts in less than 10 hours.  My daughter, who had committed no crime, was incarcerated for three days incommunicado.

People suffered chemical burns, bug bites, overcrowding and medical problems because their medicine was confiscated. A pregnant woman sat crying on the floor in the oil. It wasn't until my daughter was taken out of the Republican-managed "Little Guantanamo" and placed in a cell in a Manhattan city jail that a guard kindly brought her Vegan food and gave her a blanket to lay her grime-smeared body on at night in her crowded cell. I never thought I'd be grateful to get a call from a friend saying that my daughter was in a Manhattan city jail cell, but the knowledge that she was out of that Little Guantanamo actually gave me relief. I called Hawaii's Republican Party Headquarters, and asked them to report it to Hawaii's Governor Linda Lingle, who was at the convention in NYC and could intervene for my daughter and other UH students incarcerated illegally by her party.  The Republican rep woman who answered the phone told me "Linda knows, and you're blowing it all out of proportion."  Say What!! That's MY daughter, not YOURS, sitting in that instant-conflagration-fire-trap at Pier 57! Well, thanks a BUNCH, Linda Lingle. The UH students mean that LITTLE to you???

The Republicans wanted to "teach those protesters a lesson." They wanted to terrorize my daughter. But the lesson that the hundreds and hundreds of prisoners were taught... was not the one that the Republican Party intended, I would wager. My daughter had gone to NYC to walk in the peaceful protest of 500K people the day before the Republican National Convention began. She was not engaged in protest at the time of her arrest. She had been walking with friends near a park. There was no protest in action when they were arrested along with tourists and city employees going to work.

Anyone caught in the NYPD orange fence netting was told to sit on the ground, handcuffed, and pushed into large NYC busses. Our sweet daughter, born and brought up in a small rainforest in Hawaii, was placed in detention at Pier 57, the notorious "Little Guantanomo." I recall that when the Democrats held their convention to nominate Senator John Kerry as their candidate for President, there were only 6 people arrested, if I remember correctly.  At the Republican National Convention to elect Bush as their candidate, there were thousands arrested. I suspect that Republicans might say this was a good thing.  Being tough. This group-roundup tactic is called by the Republican party "preventative detention" (like the "pre-emptive war" in Iraq). It is used to terrorize those who might protest Bush's agenda when he is in town. America, wake up. Hitler told the German people that they would have to "give up a few of your rights that we can fight the enemy." That's what Ashcroft said, about the misnamed PATRIOT ACT. Wake up, America. The American flag that proudly waves by MY front gate and is on the back window of MY car...doesn't seem to be the same American flag that the Republican Party is waving.

NY cop yawns on duty in front of Pier 57

By Stephanie Saul, Tomoeh Marakami Tse & Karen Freifeld for Newsday, 4 September 2004

A day after the city was held in contempt for illegally detaining hundreds of convention protesters, the Police Department tried to shift the blame to Albany, claiming the state's fingerprint computer caused the problems. But both the state Office of Criminal Justice, which controls that computer, and sources in the court system denied any such fingerprint delays on Friday.

Hundreds of protesters were detained without arraignment for more than a day and, in some cases, up to 66 hours, following mass arrests that also ensnared bystanders.

It was only after a judge's order that hundreds of people were released Thursday night, some of them apparently with no formal charges. The city faces thousands of dollars in possible fines.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the city's handling of the arrests in a news conference Friday, denying allegations from civil rights attorneys that police had intentionally held protesters in jail until the end of the Republican National Convention.

Police used large nets and metal gates to restrain protesters, mostly those operating without permits, then placed many of them in wire pens at a Pier 57 garage. Many complained that they were forced to sit on a grimy floor with oil runoff from buses.

Bloomberg also acknowledged Friday that some of the 1,800 people arrested during the week were not involved in protests, at all, but just happened to be on the street when the arrests occurred.

"If you go to where people are protesting and don't want to be part of the protest, you're always going to run the risk that maybe you'll get tied up with it," Bloomberg said during his radio show, suggesting the arrests of bystanders was not avoidable.

Tacuma Bradley, 21, of Windsor Terrace and a Wesleyan music graduate, said he was among the unlucky ones. He said he was was playing the saxophone near 1th6 Street and Irving Place when protesters came along and he was caught in the police snare.

He was held two days and released after being charged with disorderly conduct. Normally prisoners facing minor charges are fingerprinted, then released within hours and issued desk appearance tickets ordering them to appear in court at a later date.

That normal process appeared to be continuing for routine prisoners this week. While the protesters were languishing in jail, other criminal cases were being processed within 10 hours. But protesters got unusual handling, with one criminal defense attorney saying he had difficulty seeing his client.

"They said we couldn't see them," said attorney Philip Stone. "There were special orders labeled RNC."
It was clear the delays were not caused by the court system. Court spokesman David Bookstaver said the courts put extra judges on duty to handle any large influx of convention protesters.

"We doubled our arraignment capacity. We added another two judges. And we took the extraordinary step of keeping a judge working through the night two nights in a row," Bookstaver said. "We were ready willing and able."

Bloomberg said Friday that the number of arrests during the convention far exceeded a normal day in Manhattan when about 300 people are nabbed. "Could we do it better?" he asked Friday. "You can always do it better, and we'll take a look and see how we can do it better the next time."

A police official said Friday that the delays were caused by the state fingerprint-matching computer. "We were ready. They couldn't process the large number of protesters' prints," the official, who asked not to be named, said of the state. But the state Division of Criminal Justice Services said the agency had turned around fingerprint checks within 32 minutes this week, one minute shorter than usual, even though its link to an FBI computer was down for awhile.

"At no point in time was it expressed to us that there was any concern," said Jessica Scaperotti, a spokeswoman for the division. The order by Acting Supreme Court Justice John Cataldo of Manhattan that the protesters be released came after lawsuits by the National Lawyers Guild, the Legal Aid Society and attorney Normal Siegel.

The Legal Aid Society's Michelle Maxian suggested the city had a clear agenda to delay the release of protesters until after President George W. Bush left town.


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