The Night They Arrested Richard
Over the years I have developed much respect for Richard. In addition to being a philosopher, he is a software development expert and an accomplished photographer. He has the ability to explain complex concepts with clarity and patience. I feel lucky that I am able to call him a friend.
Sometime ago, before I started blogging, Richard had sent me this account of his arrest in New York City. Knowing him and his strong personal convictions, I wouldn’t have been surprised had he told me he was arrested for protesting at the Republican National Convention. The irony is that he wasn’t protesting; he was in New York City at the time of the convention by coincidence. His friend had seats for the U.S. Open, and he was meeting up with him in Manhattan.
Here then, with the author’s consent, is the story of his arrest.
My Own Arrest
By Richard M. Rubin PhD
It wasn’t for participating in the Republican National Convention protests in New York, but it might as well have been. On Tuesday, August 31, 2004 about 1800 people were arrested in Manhattan – a record for one day. It is more than were arrested in the 1968 Chicago police riot at the Democratic National Convention. In 2004, the New York City police fortunately did not beat up bystanders and protesters the way the Chicago police had in 1968. Instead, the New York police arrested protesters and bystanders preemptively. People were swept into jails on some pretext because protesters had announced they planned to do something that might not have been illegal, but which the police did not like.
In my case, I had planned to go the US Tennis Open in Flushing Meadow Park. My friend Jeff had obtained two tickets that morning from his firm, a large well-known brokerage company. We met in Union Square around 4 pm. A man held a sign saying that 2 Chronicles 7:14 showed that God was behind George Bush. The next day New York Times ran a photo of him that included another sign some passerby had made. The additional sign read “Confused man” and had an arrow pointing to the man with the Chronicles sign.
Nearby a bearded, rather eloquent young man addressed the crowd. He called the man with the sign a pseudo-Christian. “Why doesn’t he talk about the Jesus who threw the money lenders out of the temple?” the speaker asked. He then spoke about free speech at the top of his unamplified voice. “The police have seized bullhorns from speakers all over the city,” he said, “even though the Supreme Court ruled in 1947 that loudspeakers are fundamental to free speech…. Only dramatic tenors have free speech in New York today!” he shouted. He then railed against the police for being instruments of oppression.
When the speaker was done, having strained his voice, I went up to him and told him I agreed with almost everything he’d said, but wish he hadn’t been so hard on the police. “We’re really on their side,” I said. “They’ve been without a union contract for a year. The Democrats provided more money for police on the streets. The Republicans took it away. We should try to appeal to them.”
“No!” he barked, as if he were still addressing a large crowd. “The police are part of an oppressive system. Have you ever been arrested?”
“Thirty-five years ago,” I said. He looked at me blankly. It had been an arranged arrest in protest against the Vietnam War in the fall of 1969. The plan had been to interrupt the activities of the Draft Board on Varick Street in Manhattan. A crowd of about seven or eight hundred had gathered. The police asked all those who wanted to be arrested to form a line. About three hundred people were arrested. They took us down to a cell at Centre Street and held us for about two hours and then let us go. I remember that Dwight MacDonald and Murray Kempton were in the cell. The charges were eventually dismissed.
Jeff and I walked up Broadway. We passed a gathering of policemen and I spoke to one giving my pitch that he should attend to what the protesters were saying; that he might find something to agree with. He was non-committal, but said that Sunday’s huge march had been quite peaceful.
In Madison Square (at 25th Street where Broadway meets Fifth Avenue, not where Madison Square Garden is), we observed some protest gatherings, but did not linger. We were hungry and looked for a pizza place. I told him that I always liked Caruso’s Pizza in Penn Station and, not finding any other pizza parlor by the time we Sixth Avenue, Jeff agreed to try it.
But first we walked up toward Herald Square where something appeared to be happening. Jeff and I used to work together half a block from there across from the Empire State Building. Some protesters had gathered on Herald Square, a triangular (not square) island in between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. The police used orange plastic netting to control the flow of traffic and pedestrians. We crossed 34th Street to Macy’s when the police let us cross, but from there they would not let anyone cross to the east so as to walk by Herald Square itself. So we went back south across 34th street. There were thousands of people and hundreds of police. Police vehicles were parked everywhere forming pedestrian barricades. The police began donning riot helmets – a bad sign.
We headed toward 33rd Street, usually the best way to get to Penn Station from the Herald Square area. Penn Station, however, is under Madison Square Garden, where the RNC was taking place, and access routes were limited. 33rd Street was blocked. The police said to take 32nd Street. We turned right on 32nd and headed for the station. The street was barricaded on either side so that you could not cross in the middle of the block. At Seventh Avenue, across from Penn Station, the only way pedestrians could go was to cross the street. As we crossed I snapped black and white pictures in the waning light. A policeman in the middle of the street told me to keep moving. When we reached the west side of the street, just at the top of the steps leading down to the Long Island Rail Road, I was slightly ahead of Jeff.
Suddenly, Jeff was surrounded by several tall men in jackets and ties. Jeff, who is not short, seemed to disappear in this newly formed crowd.
As I was not accustomed to a friend being stopped and questioned – in fact it has never happened before in more than half a century -- I started asking questions. “What’s going on? Why are you stopping my friend?” A short, cheerful, bearded man in green T-shirt – he could have been one of Santa’s elves --eased himself between Jeff’s questioners and me. “Leave them alone,” he said. “They’re just doing their job. Do you have any ID?”
“Do you?” I asked. He revealed a badge that had been around his neck, which said he was a detective with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) police. “Now let me see yours,” he said. A tall man in a suit appeared on my left. He insisted that I produce an ID. When I asked for his, he said the bearded detective’s ID was enough.
As I removed my Missouri driver’s license from my wallet, I started asking about Jeff again. “What are they doing to my friend? He hasn’t done anything wrong.”
The bearded detective in the T-shirt had handed my license to a uniformed officer, who must have been the MTA’s in-house epistemologist, for he asked: “How do you know that?”
“I know him.”
The uniformed patrolman, seeking to show that my ostensibly empirical answer owed too much to sympathetic, but faulty imagination, emitted the following zinger: “Do you know everything he’s ever done?”
“Why don’t you wait for your friend downstairs?” suggested the green T-shirted detective.
“I’d rather wait here.”
“You’re blocking traffic.”
“Only because you moved me here. I can stand off to the side.”
The tall, unidentified cop in the suit said, “If you don’t move, we’ll move you.”
“Look,” I said. “We’re trying to get to the US Open. If I go down there it might be difficult to find each other. We might miss the train.”
Two uniformed policeman I had not seen before suddenly twisted my arms around my back and walked me toward the escalator.
Jeff’s story is briefer than mine, so it may be best to relate it now. As we reached the west side of 7th Avenue, a man in a jacket and tie, who was later identified as Detective Joseph Trimarchi of the MTA police, put his arm around Jeff. Immediately several others closed around him.
“We got him!” Detective Trimarchi shouted to the others. Jeff laughed. He thought it was some kind of joke. “This is serious,” said Trimarchi. “One more word out of you and you are flat on the concrete.” Trimarchi was red in the face. Ready to strike.
He showed Jeff a series of photographs of young men. “Who’s this?” he demanded. “Who’s this?”
Jeff said nothing.
“I want you to answer.”
“I don’t want to be flat on the concrete.”
Detective Trimarchi relaxed. He showed Jeff the photo of the man he thought Jeff was.
Jeff studied it. “It doesn’t look like me. Look at the eyebrows.”
One of the officers in the crowd around Jeff revealed his expertise in disguise by interjecting: “You could have had your eyebrows waxed.”
By this time I was being led away. Detective Trimarchi warned Jeff: “Don’t look at him. You look right at me.”
Another five minutes or so of fruitless interrogation followed. Finally, a lieutenant in charge of the investigation arrived, took one look at Jeff, and said: “That’s not the guy. Let him go.”
Jeff never found out what nefarious deeds the man in the photograph was suspected of.
It does hurt to have your arms twisted behind your back, so as I was being led to the escalator I said, “You don’t have to do this. I’ll walk on my own wherever you want.” I still did not think I was being arrested – merely moved out of the way. The two police officers holding me did not let go. “I am willing to co-operate with you,” I said getting louder. “Why are you doing this?”
“You’re not being very gentlemanly,” said the one on my left side.
“Neither are you,” I replied.
“That’s because I’m a woman.”
“Well, you’re not being very ladylike.”
By this time I was being led through the Long Island Rail Road waiting area.
“Why are you doing this?” I said even louder. “I am trying to co-operate. Passers-by stared.
“Why are you resisting?” said the officer on my right. He tightened his grip.
“I am innocent!” I shouted. “Stop doing this!” The pain in my shoulder from the twisting grew worse.
“Why are you digging your nails into my hands?” he asked.
They took me to an MTA police substation near the waiting area across from Caruso’s pizza. I had to remove everything from my pockets, my belt, my hat, my watch, and my shoes. My backpack and camera bags were taken. The male officer who had escorted me put on gloves and felt me all over: my back, my chest, my legs my buttocks, and my groin. I was placed in an empty cell. For the next five hours I would be the only prisoner in the holding area.
The holding area had two cells and the open area in which I had been examined. Outside and across from my cell was a wooden bench opposite windows through which I could see police officers passing back and forth. To the right I could see into the office where they worked. The door of this holding area – a metal door with a window -- was sometimes shut and sometimes open. Every so often a policeman trying to get through it would have to go somewhere else or signal to someone to get a key.
The door to my cell was an old-fashioned barred cell door with a skeleton key lock. The lock was so tricky that every time someone tried to open it, it took at least two minutes to get the damn thing to give way.
The young officer who had examined me stood in the waiting area. He looked quite despondent.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. “Are you Ok?”
He didn’t answer or look at me.
“Are sure you’re, OK, Officer….” I read his badge. “Officer Preddy. I’m OK and I’m in here. What’s with you?”
He just shook his head slowly. He then muttered something like “If only you’d moved.”
From then on I was left mostly alone – which was mostly quite boring. Perhaps five or six officers came in and out of the area holding area from time to time to ask a question, bring me water, or to conduct some other business. They were not harsh with me. If I needed water, an officer brought a bottle. When I needed the toilet, some one let me out – struggling a minute or more with the door, of course. When I asked how long I’d be there, the answer was I had to let the process move along. The process was slow and inefficient. It involved much walking back and forth, typing into a computer, making a complete inventory of the belongings they had taken from me, an inventory in which every credit and bank card was listed separately, sending my fingerprints to the state capital in Albany waiting to be told that I was not wanted for some crime other than the still unmentioned one for which I was being charged.
The highpoint occurred when it came time to take my fingerprints. Instead the old method of rolling your fingers in ink, an officer places your hand a plate of glass and a computer takes a digital picture of your fingers. This state-of the-art fingerprinting computer was in the holding area outside my cell. When Officer Preddy first tried to use it, the computer screen had a message that confused him. So he called someone and said, “It says the memory is low. I’ve never seen a message like that before what do I do?” After trying without success a few suggestions from the person on the phone, he hunted on the floor and behind the stand supporting the computer for its plug, which he pulled out and then put back in again.
Once the computer was functioning, it took about half an hour to take my prints (the old ink method would have taken, tops, three minutes). Three officers tried to get the computer to take my prints and each encountered some insurmountable difficulty. Finally, they located an officer who had had more experience with the device. He did eventually succeed, but not without a great struggle.
First the computer program asked to see my whole hand. If it didn’t like the way my hand was placed -- and it could be quite fussy -- it told the officer holding my hand to try again. Once the whole hand had been recorded, each finger was recorded separately. If the computer did not think the individual finger matched the finger in the image of the whole hand, the officer had to try that finger again. If, after several tries, that didn’t work, the officer had to rerecord my whole hand and then rerecord each finger, including those that had already been accepted. Sometimes previously accepted fingers were rejected on the second pass, causing the cycle to start over again.
Detective Trimarchi – the one who had interrogated Jeff -- came down. When I told him what happened, he said he would try to get my charge reduced to summons. I still hadn’t been told what I was being charged with. He showed the picture of the man he had mistaken Jeff for. It didn’t look like Jeff, except that they both were white, thirtyish, and not fat. Jeff told me later he thought it must be what an African American feels like when stopped for driving while black.
Later, Detective Trimarchi passed by and I called out, saying: “I guess you weren’t able to get it reduced to a summons.”
“No,” he said, somewhat sadly. “It went all the way up the hierarchy.”
It turned out that the arresting officer had been a captain. Some remarks from the officers suggested they were annoyed at their superiors for having to spend so much time processing what was clearly a nonsensical case.
“You know this is going to be dismissed,” I said to Trimarchi.
“I know,” he said. “Let’s hope there’s a lesson in this.” I’m not sure who for.
The officer I came to know best was named Joe Interdonati. He bent the rules slightly and handed me my cell phone to make calls. This was quite helpful as one of the numbers I needed was stored in the phone. Joe listened to the conversations and wrote down the numbers I called afterwards. I called Jeff, who as it turned out, was sitting a few yards from me in the public area of the MTA police substation. He was not permitted to see me and was told only that it would take longer for me to get free than it did him.
I also called my wife, Rebecca, who was somewhere in SoHo and had planned meet me in Flushing Meadow Park (where we’d left car) after the tennis match. “Take the train back to Glen Cove,” I told her. Beck, having lived most of her life I in St Louis, is less familiar with New York streets than I am. By the time she reached the vicinity of Penn Station (where I was still being held), all streets leading there seemed blocked by the police. More than once, in different locations, police officers told her that she could only get to Penn Station if she had the unused portion of a round trip ticket – an assertion that had not even a microscopic correspondence with reality. Two young New Yorkers, who turned out to be brothers (doubly so, I suppose, as they happened to be African Americans), took Beck in their care and managed to navigate the maze of closed streets to get her to the only LIRR station entrance still open. Leaving this first set of benefactors behind, she descended into the station where she encountered two middle-aged women. She told them what the police had said about needing a round-trip ticket. “That’s ridiculous,” said one of them. “You can just buy a one-way ticket from any machine.”
One reason I was in Penn Station until about midnight was that my captors could not at first determine where to send me, and, once that had been decided, they needed to locate an available patrol car to transport me, and then get clearance to put me in it and drive. This clearance was apparently quite difficult because of all the RNC security. When it became clear that all the belongings I had been forced to shed would be held for me in Penn Station, I asked Joe if I could pack my cameras in their bags myself, so as to minimize damage. He said they would take good care of them, but then he left and came back with the cameras and their bags and put them on the wooden bench outside my cell. “Now don’t do anything crazy,” he said as he jiggled the door of my cell to let me out.
Sometime later, as my time to leave approached, Officer Preddy took me out, handed me my shoes, and instructed me to remove the laces. When I asked why, his reply was an echo of Alice’s Restaurant: ”In case you try to hang yourself.” Even later as I was getting ready to leave, the laces were still on the wooden bench. I asked Joe about them and he said, “Here, put them in your pocket.” He gave me two sheets of paper –receipts with an inventory of my possessions they were holding.
Joe said he had to put handcuffs on me. “Now, Joe,” I said. “Suppose I was a teacher you had had in school. Would you still put handcuffs on me?”
“It’s for your protection and mine. It’s the rules.”
To assist him in taking me downtown, Joe had called for an officer named Kevin Slavin, who was more familiar with the routine at 100 Centre Street, where I was to be booked, and therefore could get me through more quickly. I asked him when I’d be getting out. “Probably not until 11 in the morning,” he said. “You have to go before a judge and they’re not going to get a judge out of bed for you.” Kevin and Joe took me to the patrol car. Later, when my 82-year-old mother expressed outrage and shame that I had been led through Penn Station in handcuffs, I told her: “Mom, the people in the station saw a guy in handcuffs. They didn’t know it was me. If I go there tomorrow, no one is going say: that’s the guy the cops dragged through here last night.”
The driveway between 33rd and 31st Street was filled with security personnel of various sorts. Joe drove carefully. Only once, when he had to reverse direction on a one-way street that had become blocked, did he put the patrol car’s flashers on. I asked Kevin about his work. He said he been with the Transit police for 7 years and lived in New Jersey. “You don’t have to live the city?” I asked. “No, our jurisdiction is all through New York State, so there are no rules like that.” He said his family had been in the police force for three generations. His father had been a captain.
At Centre Street, at least a dozen protesters were waiting at the bottom of a dingy stairway with plastic handcuffs on their wrists. Mine were metal and were starting to hurt. Kevin said they’d soon be off. “There’s a lot of upset people here,” I said to him, referring to the protesters. “I understand the police in New York have their own complaints. They protest wherever Mayor Bloomberg goes.”
“But we’re peaceful,” said Kevin.
“And these people weren’t? I was peaceful, too.” Kevin scooted away to figure out how best to get through the maze of checkpoints. Joe and I were alone for awhile, so I asked about his family. He’s divorced with a one-year-old daughter. He sees her all the time. Then I asked: ”Who are you going to vote for?”
“Bush,” he said without much commitment. “He seems to support some things I like.”
“I’m surprised to hear that,” I said. “With the Democrats, under Clinton, there was more money for police officers. The Republicans took that away.”
“I don’t think much about politics,” he said.
“Joe, Joe, people here ask why other countries hate us so much. It’s because we don’t pay attention to politics. We vote for lower taxes or for fighting back --even if it’s fighting back without thinking. We don’t realize how much our vote affects the people in those other countries. Think about your vote, Joe. Don’t throw it away.”
He said nothing.
Kevin returned to shepherd me through the various entry points, including a doctor who asked if I had been checked for tuberculosis lately. My handcuffs came off, Joe and Kevin left, and I was taken with several others to a large cell. Before entering, we were given food to take inside: a choice of cheese sandwich or peanut butter (my choice), an apple, and a small container of 2% milk. The food was a relief. The aborted attempt Jeff and I had made to get to Caruso’s Pizza had taken place 6 hours earlier and I had already been hungry then. There were two pay phones in the cell. I called Glen Cove to see if my wife had made it back to my parents. My mother answered. Beck had just come in, having walked from the station. It was after 1 am.
There were about two dozen protestors in the cell with me. A man with a brown goatee and wire-rimmed glasses had been with a group that had attempted to march from the old World trade Center site to Madison Square Garden. He was among 200 people arrested after they had gone only a few blocks. He said he’d been held since 11 o’clock in the morning.
A younger, somewhat heavyset man with a serious look wore a T-shirt that he might have made himself. It was dull orange with large black letters. The fill in the letters was uneven as though they had been made with brush strokes. More likely, it had been silkscreened to have that effect. The letters read “FUCK BUSH.”
A guard saw the T-shirt through the bars. He called another guard over. “Look at that,” he said with genuine enthusiasm. “Hey, stand up and let us see. Oh yeah, that’s nice. You could make money off of that.”
(I should add, even though it might be hard to believe in a story about New York, that in all my exchanges with police that day, including the excited moments outside and going into Penn Station, no one, neither the police officers nor I, uttered any of the extreme words of the English language.)
Some in the group started talking politics. There was much criticism of the police. I said, “Don’t be too hard on the police. Lenny Bruce, the comedian who died in the sixties, was hounded by the police for things far tamer than many comedians today do as matter of course. Toward the end of his life he said that he felt sympathy for the police. Say you want to start a society, he said. Ok, so you need a few rules. We eat here, we sleep there, and we put the shit and the garbage over there. So one day you’re trying to get some sleep, when some guy comes over and starts dropping garbage on you. You say, Whoa, wait minute, fella! We’ve got these rules. We sleep here the garbage goes over there. So you try to go back to sleep, but the guy keeps dumping garbage on you. So what do you do?”
“Beat the shit out of him,” said one of the young men in the cell with me.
“No,” I said. “According to Lenny Bruce, you find some dumb looking strong guy and you say to him: You know we have these rules. We eat here, we sleep, there, and we put the shit and the garbage over there. Well, you see that guy over there. He keeps putting his garbage where we sleep. So why don’t you take him and keep him over with the garbage for a while. The dumb guy thinks about this and then he says: Why can’t you do that? So you explain: You see, I’m a nice guy. I don’t do stuff like that.”
“I don’t get it,” a young man said.
“The police are victims, too,” said another. “They’re just doing other people’s dirty work.”
A guard called my name. “Are you with this group?” he asked.
I wasn’t exactly -- technically, I was a non-RNC arrest – but I didn’t want to be isolated again. So I asked for clarification: “Do you mean do I know them?” He looked as if I’d spoken Finnish, shrugged his shoulders, and walked away.
Soon my name was called again along with several others. “You’re going to court,” I was told. Kevin was wrong. It was not yet 3 am.
Those of us called were led down several hallways through several locked doors. Once when we were waiting in corridors for a door to be unlocked, I took the time to relace my shoes. As I was sitting, a guard asked, “What do you guys have against Bush? Other than that he’s an asshole?”
“That’s it,” said someone in our group.
The guards led us to a locked holding area. Not all of us there were strongly opposed to the Bush presidency. A 17-year-Hispanic had been arrested for jumping the subway turnstile. “So what’s with Bush?” he asked. He listened as a few of us rattled off a litany of complaints. He was quite naïve, but interested. He didn’t know it was quite so bad.
The conversation turned to the police. The young man said: “The one who got me: he found some weed in my pocket. He said, You won’t need this, and he took it from me. He didn’t bust me for it, but he took it. You know he wanted it for himself.”
The holding area had three booths with open windows through which prisoners could talk to their attorneys. Soon, my name was called and I went into the booth on the left. A man introduced himself as an attorney who would be representing me during the arraignment. He read the charges the first time I’d heard them: disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. I told him the charges were preposterous. He suggested that we should try to get an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD). An ACD means that after six months, if you engage in no invidious conduct, the charges are dismissed. I was not familiar with this and was a bit confused. “But I’m not guilty,” I said.
“You can plead not guilty, but then you’ll have to come back to go to court.”
“I live in St Louis.”
“Then you better take the ACD.”
“If I take the ACD, am I admitting guilt?”
“Not at all,” he said.
A short time later, I was called to appear. It is rather disconcerting to appear in court in jeans without a belt, without having washed, without having shaved in about 18 hours. But the court was grinding through cases so fast it hardly mattered. It turned out that the ACD was not an option. When my name was called the prosecutor mumbled something I barely heard. The defense attorney said, “Refused!”
The judge set a court date and my attorney handed me a piece of paper with the date on it along with his business card. The court moved on to next case and suddenly no one cared whether I was there or not.
I walked into the street, got my bearings, and found a subway station where I waited about half an hour for a train. I got off at Herald Square. It was perhaps 4:30. The crowds were gone, but – this was New York – the streets were not empty, even at that hour. There were no barricades and it was easy to walk the long block along 34th Street to Penn Station.
At the MTA police substation where I’d spent the evening under guard in the inner sanctum, I handed the receipts listing my belongings that Officer Joe had given me to the officer at the desk, whose name was Wilson. He went through a door and came back a few minutes later with my camera bags, backpack, hat, watch, and wallet. I looked in the wallet. There were no credit cards or bank cards. Officer Wilson looked at one of the sheets of paper I’d given him and said, “I don’t see anything on here about the cards.” After searching some more he came back and looked at the sheets again. “Oh,” he said, “the second one’s not a copy. They’re listed here. Just a minute.” He disappeared again and was gone a long time. When he came back, Joe was with him with the credit and bank cards in his hand.
“They had to find the guy who put them away,” said Joe. “How did you get out so soon?”
“They got a judge out bed, just for me.”
After some brief conversation, during which I packed my gear, I thanked Joe for having treated me fairly. I didn’t mention the handcuffs. He had obviously felt it was beyond his discretion to forego them.
I left Penn Station and caught the number 7 train to Queens. It was a long ride to the Tennis stadium. Tired people like me going home just before dawn and other tired people going early to work rode the train with me. Measured in minutes, the walk to where we’d left the car (well past the tennis stadium -- more than a mile from the train station) was nearly as long as the ride on the el. Halfway to the lot I came upon a policeman in a patrol car parked under a street lamp.
“I left my car in the lot south of the Expressway yesterday afternoon.” I said. “I hope it’s still there.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “It’ll be there.”
“Can you give me directions?”
“Beautiful night,” he said.
And the car was still there.
-- Richard M. Rubin
Postscript: In December of 2004 (nearly four months after the incidents described here), with the help of a young lawyer from the New York County Defender Services named Leila Sayar I received an ACD. Six months afterwards, this adjournment automatically turned into a dismissal of the charges.
My wrist still hurts, but not badly.
Richard M. Rubin is a software developer with Tower Grove Software in St Louis MO. He is also an adjunct instructor in philosophy at Washington University.
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