On April 27, 1968, the ACLU was confronted with the major challenge of attempting to monitor the New York City police as they faced large anti-Vietnam War demonstrations that were scheduled along both sides of Central Park; a pro-war demonstration in midtown; and a radical group known as Youth Against War and Fascism that had clashed repeatedly with police, in Washington Square Park. I was sure the last of these would cause the most trouble and enlisted eight volunteer lawyers to join me in observing it.
The scene was not reassuring. The police had brought paddy wagons to transport arrested demonstrators. In addition to many uniformed officers, a lot of beefy men were standing around in scruffy civilian clothes wearing color-coded plastic buttons to identify themselves to each other as police. There seemed about as many of them as of the would-be demonstrators, most of whom were very young. At the appointed hour, about 200 anti-war demonstrators, carrying placards saying "The Streets Belong to the People," lined up on the sidewalk next to the park to begin their march up Fifth Avenue. A uniformed officer with a bullhorn stepped in front to announce that the march was illegal. (It wasn't.) He ordered the demonstrators to disperse. They listened then moved forward. Within seconds the men with the plastic buttons charged the marchers, kicking, punching and wrestling them to the ground. As the marchers were subdued, they were led off to the waiting police wagons, often with additional kicks and punches along the way.
I and our observers, wearing lawyerly suits and ties and looking very different from both the demonstrators and the police, observed the tumultuous scene. I saw a boy who had been thrown into a wagon jump out and try to run away. He was caught by one of the men with plastic buttons and surrounded by several of them who seemed to be beating him as he lay on the ground. At that point, I violated the rules I set for the other observers and went to peer over the shoulders of the men surrounding the boy to see exactly what was happening. I was promptly arrested myself and—more gently than the others—put into a wagon. It turned out one of my fellow occupants was Walter Teague, the leader of the protestors. He looked up at me and said, "I thought you were supposed to be a conservative."
I was put in a holding pen with about twenty other prisoners to await my turn for arraignment. After a few minutes, the presiding judge of the Criminal Courts appeared at the cell to see me and to ask, in what I guessed was an unknowing echo of Emerson, "What are you doing in there?" I felt I could only respond in the manner of Thoreau, "What are you doing out there?"
Pub date: 02/04/05
Price: $22.00/26.50 Canada
5 1/2 x 8 1/4
8 pp. b/w photos
Carton Quantity: 24
Autobiography, Biography, Human Rights
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