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WIth 600+ Arrests, Attorney Norman Siegel Warns About Unsafe Jail Conditions For Protesters

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Transit union workers have warned Siegel the police are holding protesters at an abandoned pier that was once (and may still be) contaminated with asbestos. We also hear from Charles Barron of the New York City Council and musician Michael Franti. [includes rush transcript]

Police arrested about 20 protesters yesterday bringing the total to around 600 over the past five days. In response, the National Lawyers Guild held an emergency press conference Monday to condemn the city for jailing nonviolent protesters and then denying them legal aid, food and medical treatment. One of the speakers at the press conference was

  • City Council member Charles Barron, speaking at the National Lawyers Guild Press Conference
  • Norman Siegel, former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
  • Michael Franti, musician

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

CITY COUNCIL MEMBER CHARLES BARRON: This is the patriot act in action. This is why people demonstrated. This is why half a million people, more than half a million people came out. To deny people legal access, these crimes or these offenses that were committed, so they say should have been desk appearances, and they should have been released. I know murderers who get access to lawyers. I know people who commit serious crimes who have access to lawyers. So to deny us access is the Patriot Act in action. And this is why people demonstrated. We’re calling on the mayor and the commissioner to Intervene. This is ridiculous. This is a peaceful march. Over 500,000 people peacefully marched. Those we think were excessive arrests, excessive detaining, and denying them their legal rights is absurd. We want the mayor to intervene right now. The commissioner, to get those who need any medical attention, they need to get that medical attention, and those who have been in there overnight; they need to be released immediately.

AMY GOODMAN: New York City Council member Charles Barron, hopes to be mayor of New York, as he has already announced his candidacy. This is Democracy Now!, as we talk about the protests and the continues of jailed protester that they face. We’re joined by Norman Siegel, former head of the New York Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union as well as Michael Franti, hip hop artist who has just returned from Iraq and the occupied territories, Gaza and the West Bank. We’ll talk later with him about that, but now about the protests that he participated in yesterday, but first, Norman Siegel, what is happening to these more than 600 people about that number, who have been arrested?

NORMAN SEIGEL: They’re being processed over on 15th street on the Westside Highway. There’s lots of questions emerging. To begin with, lack of access to lawyers, lack of access to food, and delayed access to medical care. In addition I was informed recently by an official of the Transit Worker’s Union who used to lease that space that that building had had impossible — and possibly continues to have a significant asbestos problem.

AMY GOODMAN: You are talking about Pier 57?

NORMAN SEIGEL: Correct. I wrote the mayor and police commission yesterday telling them that i have gotten this information, I’d like to know whether, A.) they were aware there was the history of this building, and if so, B.) what did they do to investigate the asbestos problem, and if they didn’t do anything about it, they should do it immediately. I have not heard anything yet. I am going to have a press conference today. We should not create any kind of a public health problem for people who are protesting and are detained on the Westside Highway.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, these protesters are being held at Pier 57, right off the Westside highway on the west side of Manhattan, but who was there before? Who were the people who inhabit the building otherwise?

NORMAN SEIGEL: Well, a while ago, the transit department was there. The MTA, I believe, and for a while, it was not occupied. I think that the city overreacted. They bought into the district attorney’s argument that there would be 1,000 arrests a day. We have had five day of little more than a 100 a day average. That kind of average could have been processed through the regular system. The World Economic Forum two years ago, the same thing, they projected 1,000 arrests a day. There were merely 300 over the five day period. So, what they do is they set up a temporary detention facility, and I don’t think it’s, A.) needed, but B.) if you are going to have a temporary detention facility, you have to make sure there’s no asbestos problem and I call upon the mayor and the police commission to allow some of us to go in and investigate the conditions of that building immediately.

AMY GOODMAN: Norman Siegel, of the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, former head. Michael Franti, you were in the protests yesterday. Why did you come to New York to do this and what was the statement that you felt it was important to make her?

MICHAEL FRANTI: I wanted to be a part of this river, like i was saying, just a drop and the look in the eyes of hundreds of thousands of other people who feel the way i do that the bush administration is leading us down a path that is not only dividing this nation, but it’s dividing the planet. And to be out in the streets was very spirited. I saw so many different types of people from young to old, every ethnic group imaginable. I saw people who were there because they felt very strongly about things that were happening specifically in the city. As well as people who were, you know, talking about worldwide foreign policy.

AMY GOODMAN: You marched in the Kensington welfare rights union march.

MICHAEL FRANTI: I marched in both of them yes

AMY GOODMAN: Did you see people get arrested?

MICHAEL FRANTI: I didn’t see — well, i saw a couple of people get arrested on the street. I didn’t see mass arrest, but just kind of off to the side. There occasionally would be somebody who seemed like maybe that they were just, you know, had said something to a police officer, or were not doing direct action, and suddenly, five, ten cops would descend on that one person. Crowds would come around and start to, you know, observe, and first shoot cameras, as the group builds, there would be people that would be screaming against the police to let the people go. Of course, they did didn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday we reported on the Critical Mass Bike Ride. Friday night, 5,000 cyclists went through New York. I cannot say raced, because there were so many of them. They slowly made their way through New York, and we saw them at Times Square and our producer, Elizabeth Press was detained with many others right at 34th Street right next to Macy’s where the big Daily Show advertisement is. That says, “Welcome to New York: That Smell? Freedom.” She was handcuffed with her hands hand her back, Caught in a dragnet. They were not given any warning and they were caught up. The protests — the police calling them our guests, let’s move the guests onto the buses, they say.

NORMAN SEIGEL: The bikes should be returned. The police argue that they need the bikes for evidence. The police should take a Polaroid picture of the bikes and give the bikes back to the people. Otherwise, they will be there for months.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the fact they had been held for more than 24 hours in detention? When I asked a community police officer at that moment, he said, they would be brought over to Pier 57, and if they identify themselves, they will be given desk appearance tickets. That might take days.

NORMAN SEIGEL: Well, that shouldn’t be. A desk appearance takes four to six hours. Reports say that people were being held as long as 24 hours to get a desk appearance ticket. That’s extraordinary and raises the question of whether or not they’re doing this as they did in the world economic forum, A.) to make sure that the people don’t get on the streets to protest or B.) to deter people from being involved in any kind of activity.

AMY GOODMAN: Norman Siegel, where is your news conference in New York?

NORMAN SEIGEL: In front of Pier 57 at 10:30. Again, I’m concerned about the asbestos problem in addition to the other situations. This city of New York should not put people in a building if there is a question about contamination of asbestos.

AMY GOODMAN: Norman Siegel, former head of the American Civil Liberties Union and Michael Franti, I’d like to talk you to later about your trip from Palestine and Iraq, but right now, if you could sing us into our break. Michael Franti.

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