September 24, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
YES MEN HONCHO SPRUNG FROM CLINK
"Balls Across America" direct-action campaign launched
NYPD abuse of authority big factor in arrest
Andy Bichlbaum, co-founder of activist group the Yes Men, emerged after 26 hours in New York City's central lockup with all charges against him dismissed.
"The judge just laughed," said Bichlbaum. "The police had a less well-developed sense of humor - and, it turned out, much less regard for the law. But all in all, I'm ecstatic that they arrested me."
At 10am Tuesday, Bichlbaum was arrested and charged with trespassing, after he and 21 "Survivaballs"  gathered on New York City's East River and announced they were to going to "take the UN by storm" from the water, since all the land approaches were sealed. Once at the UN, they would supposedly use the Survivaballs to blockade the negotiations and refuse to let world leaders leave the room until they'd agreed on sweeping cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, as Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has demanded.
The event was a "scenic and mediagenic way to call attention to what our leaders need to do in the run-up to Copenhagen," said Bichlbaum. It was also the official inauguration of the Yes Men's "Balls Across America" series of civil disobedience actions, inspired by the call for direct action on climate change by website http://BeyondTalk.net.
Minutes after the balls began wading into the water, law enforcement swooped in on the protesters by land, sea, and air. In order not to harm their attackers, the balls admitted defeat and waddled out of the water and off the beach. Seven participants were given tickets for trespassing, and one - ringleader Bichlbaum - was whisked away to "the Tombs," New York's central processing facility at 100 Centre Street, due to an unpaid ticket for bicycle riding through Washington Square Park.
Bichlbaum's arrest led to hilarious prime-time coverage on CNN.
"Sleeping on concrete was a challenge, but I met a lot of interesting people, and my arrest meant major prime-time news coverage we wouldn't have otherwise had," said Bichlbaum. "Civil disobedience is a great way to put pressure on leaders to do things we need them to do - either direct heat they can feel, or via public opinion, which they also feel."
"Thanks to my momentary discomfort," added Bichlbaum, "our symbol of the stupidity of not taking action on climate change was seen by tens of millions of people. Surely that could amount to something."
"In any case I remain grateful to the NYPD for having accidentally made our event successful beyond our wildest dreams," Bichlbaum gushed.
Despite Bichlbaum's gratitude, one thing stuck out for his attorney, Wylie Stecklow: in filing his report, the arresting officer had lied through his teeth.
"The officer said he'd seen Bichlbaum jump over the fence, which was obviously impossible, since the police arrived after the Survivaballs had all entered the beach," said Stecklow, who defended Bichlbaum at his arraignment yesterday morning. "And the officer said there were prominent signs posted to the effect that entering was forbidden - also untrue."
"Perhaps the NYPD thought that if an officer did not swear that he saw Andy climb a fence, AND that there were signs providing notice that this area was off-limits, a judge might have dismissed the case," said Stecklow.
According to Stecklow, officers swearing to facts they couldn't possibly know is an all-too-common occurrence. "Often, during mass arrests, we see a Supervising Officer assigning junior officers to write up the paperwork. But these junior officers end up becoming the 'arresting officer,' requiring them to swear to facts that are not within their knowledge. This leads to constitutional violations and wrongful arrests, and undermines the confidence that citizens should have in the criminal justice system," said Stecklow.
The NYPD has, in recent years, been found guilty of making numerous unconstitutional arrests in cases of political protest, and then falsifying their statements to fit the arrests. There have in particular been several well-known cases involving the tackling and arrest of bicyclists, with false excuses then written into police reports.
"My case doesn't matter in itself," said Bichlbaum. "In fact, I'm really happy it turned out as it did. But I hope we can help expose the systemic and nefarious culture of lying within the NYPD, that has had the effect of criminalizing protest in New York City."
"The police have to be told very clearly that they can't lie and expect to get away with it," Bichlbaum added. "The stakes are far too high."
"We need to strengthen oversight of the police by those who empower them in the first place - you and I, the citizens of New York City," said Stecklow. "Right now, at a bare minimum, that means giving teeth to the formerly well-intentioned, now powerless body of the Civilian Complaint Review Board."
"Unfortunately, even when we have video proving police statements to be false, no one seems interested in investigating," added Stecklow. "That's got to change."
After reading the arresting officer's complaint against him, Bichlbaum decided to file a complaint with the CCRB in order to hold this officer accountable for his false statements."It's not much, but at least this guy will have to explain his story under oath. And then next time, maybe he'll think twice before filing a false statement to make the crime stick."
The Yes Men hope their next actions won't depend on police misconduct to make them a success. "With 'Balls Across America,' our goal is to get arrested fair and square, all across this fair land of ours," said Yes Men co-founder Mike Bonanno. "It's a great way to get attention for a crucial issue."
 Bichlbaum actually received an Adjournment with Contemplation of Dismissal, which normally results in full dismissal in New York State (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adjourned_in_Contemplation_of_Dismissal).
 The Survivaball (http://survivaball.com) made its first appearance in 2006, when "Halliburton representatives" attended a conference on catastrophic climate change and demonstrated the functionality of the large inflatable suits which keep corporate managers safe from global warming
(http://theyesmen.org/hijinks/survivaball). That hoax, and many more like it, are documented in the new award-winning documentary film, The Yes Men Fix the World (http://www.theyesmenfixtheworld.com), which opens theatrically in New York October 7, before opening nationally October 23.