My Arraignment

Hi everyone,

I went to court this morning for my arraignment at 100 Centre Street, the building attached to the prison—the "Tombs"—where I was held the day after my arrest for over 10 hours. It was not nice to be back. Lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild were present, wearing their traditional and by now iconic lime green ballcaps, to advise and defend me and other protestors arrested during the Republican National Insurrection. I was told by the lawyer who defended me that if I wanted to settle the case, I had to plead guilty, the downside being I might not be able to sue or take part in class action lawsuits against the city, some of which have already started. A Lawyer told me most arrestees were receiving an "ACD," or, "adjournment contemplating dismissal," which stipulates that if one remains arrest-free for six months, the charges will be dropped. Being held for 24 hours without access to a telephone (for the first 15 hours) or a lawyer, handcuffed, transported like a convict in a truck, enduring the harsh and blatant stupidity and disorganization of law enforcement officials, and being physically and psychologically abused for riding one's bicycle in a peaceful demonstration is unjust. On the other hand, "civil disobedience," as it's called, carries with it the risk of detention. I wasn't planning on being arrested for civil disobedience, or even committing it, but there I was, in twist-tie handcuffs, feeling like a bag of garbage. In any case, I made a guilty plea and received an ACD. I had to wait around for a little bit to get a piece of paper to get my bicycle out of jail, held since late August. The bailiff said, "You are free to go," in his face-saving monotone, a communique emblematic of the way people are dealt with in general in the criminal justice system.

I found out after checking in with the NLG that the police had made so many charges (5 in all) against me so that I would take the ACD, instead of pleading not guilty, and perhaps later sueing them for false arrest. My relief at receiving an ACD was checked by this quite probable hypothesis. It's not nice to be humiliated, then manipulated.

It was an interesting experience to be at the court. My Judge was a wispy, delicate looking black woman, who was...pretty nice, I guess. At least she wasn't gnawing vulgarly on gum, like most other law enforcement officials, chortling, "You're going to be in jail for a week." The court was filled with the men in blue (black actually) and people doing their best to process people without being affected emotionally or even trying to understand anyone's situation on an individual level. The "civic" atmosphere, never a pleasant one, with its cruddy walls and rude lighting, was tempered only by the morning sun coming in through the greasy windows. As a decorative type of guy, I noticed that the inability to operate mini blinds is universal. Not a word will be said about the choice of wall color.

I was lucky enough to witness a little "row." A black man in his late 30s, probably homeless, was arraigned holding his oversize pants up with one hand. He had been charged with disorderly conduct, like me, and after a move by the DA to give him an ACD, rudely and loudly challenged the Judge. She asked him, "Is anyone forcing you to make this plea against your will?" He questioned her and she had to repeat herself several times, but eventually he responded, "What? Why you ask me that? I've been in jail for 4 days, I know my rights." I nodded in agreement (of his attitude towards the situation, not of his response). Clearly he was befuddled, but who wouldn't be after 4 days in jail for the equivalent of a traffic ticket? You can imagine the half-bemused, half-alarmed faces of the court workers, clerks, and the embarrassed Judge, who had been maintaining an air of mystical benevolence—the kind dependent upon smooth sailing—throughout the proceedings. Finally a move was made by the defender to skip the question and let him go, and he walked out, angry, still clutching his pants, limping. Everyone sighed. The bailiff called the next defendant, and everyone forgot about the poor sucker. It's too bad he can't read my little tribute. Here's to you sucker! Let's hope he's not harassed again for sleeping in the park.

I met another nice young man in the courtroom, who knew one of the pages I work with at the library. He had been arrested for shooting fireworks. It's good to know that the youth of our great city have all the opportunity they need to have fun and enjoy themselves without condescending laws to make them feel like idiots in an asylum. I also chatted with a guy I was arraigned with, while I waited in line for documentation, who had flown in from San Francisco for his arraignment. He said he was an organizer for Time's Up, the environmental group who organized the Critical Mass ride. He told me he had prepared himself to be arrested during the RNC, but was not expecting to be arrested at Critical Mass! In San Francisco the Police communicate with the protestors and are pretty much left alone during the monthly Critical Mass ride, now an international phenomenon. Let's hope the Police here have calmed themselves, and this month's Critical Mass ride in New York is without incident.

Thanks to everyone who offered support to me over the past few weeks, especially Jenna!