In N.Y., thousands voice their support of abortion rights

Third day of protests takes place in run-up to GOP national convention

August 29, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - Thousands of abortion-rights supporters marched over the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday in what organizers called the largest demonstration devoted to that issue in New York in three decades.

The protest, which opened a third day of demonstrations aimed at the Republican National Convention, occurred as hundreds of bicycle-riding protesters who were arrested a night earlier were arraigned in a Manhattan court, many having been held on minor charges for many hours before being released.

With placards that made their feelings crystal clear ("I Love a Pro-Choice New York" and "Abort Bush B4 His Second Term"), an estimated 25,000 people participated in a procession that stretched about a half-mile long, snaking across the bridge toward City Hall.

The protest was orderly, and the police said there were no arrests.

This week, as the Republican Party nominates President Bush for a second term, tens of thousands of people plan to express their displeasure, even hostility, toward the administration.

Two groups sought to stage low-key, symbolic protests yesterday. One laid out 972 pairs of combat boots and 1,000 pairs of civilian shoes around Cherry Hill Fountain in Central Park to commemorate soldiers and civilians killed in Iraq.

As a bell tolled, names were read aloud.

At Ground Zero, a group calling itself Ring Out distributed thousands of bells yesterday as part of a performance composition that sought to commemorate both Sept. 11, 2001, and what protest organizers called the violence of the Republican administration.

Still, many others sought more traditional, and louder, forms of dissent.

More than 36 hours before the convention was to start, the police said they had arrested 311 people in convention-related protests.

On Thursday, a group of naked and nearly naked protesters with the group Act Up stopped traffic on Eighth Avenue and were arrested, and hundreds of bicycle-riding demonstrators were arrested Friday for tying up traffic and violating traffic rules.

Though the city had sent out thousands of police officers across Manhattan, the authorities did not increase the number of arraignment courts to deal with larger numbers of arrests, court personnel said.

The 264 people who were swept up when police pulled nets across the street to block the bicycle protest found themselves stuck in a courthouse holding cell for many hours, waiting to be arraigned.

"I'm tired, I'm frustrated and I'm hungry," said Julia Cohen, a lawyer who said she had been on the street Friday night to defend protesters and found herself under arrest.

She had waited 16 hours to be released.

For all the commotion, Central Park was fairly peaceful yesterday despite court battles to use the park for protests on both weekend days.

There was noise on the Great Lawn yesterday afternoon, but for reasons other than politics. A bunch of men were making a racket nearby as they played a game of full-court basketball, and the clank of a hardball slamming off an aluminum bat could also be heard.

A few protesters did turn out, including a few die-hards who had hoped to see the lawn brimming with defiance but instead found themselves seated beneath a shade tree or on a park bench.

"They'll hear us; they'll hear us," Lisa Canzaro, 35, of Brooklyn, said as she and her friend Frank Garcia, 32, sat on a park bench around noon.

The police presence was heavy, with what looked like a command post on one corner of the Great Lawn.

Officers were stationed at every entrance, and patrol cars and police vans prowled inside the park.

A police helicopter hovered overhead, and many park visitors said they had the uncomfortable feeling they were being watched.

The city had denied a permit for an Arab-American group to hold a rally yesterday on the Great Lawn, and there was some expectation that the group would show up. But it didn't.

The group planning a large protest today, United for Peace and Justice, had also been denied a permit for a rally that organizers expect will draw hundreds of thousands of people.

That group has obtained permission to march past the convention center, and many of the marchers might go to the park, permit or not.

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