Portrait of a Night in a NY Lockup

The naked protesters from Act Up and the Plaza rappelers from Operation Sibyl spent very different nights in jail. The Plaza rappelers,--already being called "The Plaza Four" - had a rough time. They spent 25 hours in jail before being arraigned on "felony and misdemeanor charges of assault, reckless endangerment and criminal trespass."

Mr. Maxit, 28, and Mr. Murphy, 31, who have been arrested at protests before, said it had been their worst experience in the criminal justice system. They said they were robbed of cash in the middle of the night while in a general-population holding cell next to the court. Mr. Maxit said a man had punched him in the face because he looked at the man after the man had instructed, "Don't look at me." Mr. Maxit and Mr. Murphy said they were shocked by other prisoners' drug use and felt too frightened to sleep. They complained about the correctional officers, calling them angry and uncaring.....Mr. Maxit and Mr. Murphy expressed regret at not being able to return to the Plaza for a warm bath and a good meal.

City jails, particularly those in which arrestees are housed together in large, communal holding cells, rank right up there with the worst. They stink beyond belief, are overcrowded and understaffed and filled with the mentally ill, the impoverished, the drug-addicted and other unlucky souls. There might even be a real criminal or two. Anyone who thinks getting arrested in New York will be an adventure should think again. It is far more likely to be a nightmare. And once you're out of jail, you have to deal with the courts. Being arrested and processed through the criminal justice system is a dehumanizing and demoralizing experience. Think long and hard before volunteering for it.

It sounds like the Plaza rappelers' arrest on assault charges may be bogus. Which brings the lesson home even more. If you're going to protest, realize that you may fall victim to unfair police action. If you can't imagine enduring the experience that befell the Plaza arrestees, stay out of the fray. Blog, take pictures and stay an observer. Weekend warriors may get more than they bargained for.

Update: If you see an injustice, record it. Pen and paper are fine. Cell phones are better.

A Web protest guide from Just Cause Law Collective suggests that protesters who see police brutality document it by leaving a detailed cell phone message for themselves or recording what they see on their portable music player.

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