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Report on WBAI LAB meeting, 1/23/01

SF arrests

WBAI News and Free Speech Radio News reporter Miranda Kennedy reported the following tonight, via cell phone, from the hallways of WBAI (the station is on the 10th floor at 120 Wall St.; please excuse any misspellings and omitted last names; arraingment info at bottom):

At roughly 5:30 p.m., about 40-50 peopled gathered in the downstairs lobby of 120 Wall St.--listeners and local advisory board members--who were trying to go upstairs to the station to hold a scheduled meeting. (Please see release below for background). There was a restricted list on the ground-floor lobby of the building today; only producers with programs were allowed in.

WBAI's interim general manager Utrice Leid then allowed Joanne Bob, chair of the LAB, to go upstairs and act as go-between. She negotiated with Leid, and apparently the demands of the board were also read to Leid. The demands included the right to hold the meeting at the station--a 25-year tradition--and to preserve the public-comment period which naturally included listeners. It had apparently been decided in advance that if both LAB members and listeners could not enter, no one would go in, which is what Bob told Leid. Leid then allowed only board members up. Leid said it couldn't be a public meeting because too many people created a fire hazard (this seems to contradict Leid's former statements about equipment-safety threats--see below). More negotiations ensued. Two women, both in wheel chairs--one now on the LAB, one formerly on the board--managed to get upstairs before anyone else. These two women had had some kind of altercation with Leid. They announced they were there for the meeting. They say Leid claimed she hadn't been told about the meeting, that she didn't have enough notice, that Leid only knew about it when she received a fax yesterday. The two women said Leid had been sent a certified letter 2 weeks ago regarding the LAB meeting at the station.

There were, at the start, 5 security men outside the door of the station on the 10th floor, as well as building security people downstairs, including the building's owner. NYPD were at first stationed downstairs, but they came up later--roughly 10 officers were inside the station. Later on, when things heated up, more arrived, for about a total of at least 20 officers in various locations.

At this point, Leid allowed a select group upstairs--board members (there are 20 in all), media, legal observers, listeners. The group came up in 3 elevator rides. She spoke to them outside the station. But once assembled on the 10th floor, Leid again said only board members could enter. She insisted she was not locking anyone out, that she never wanted to lock anyone out, and again invoked the fire-hazard dilemma.

People shouted and chanted for some time in the hallway: WHO'S STATION, OUR STATION, and the situation appeared quite tense.

At 8:00 p.m. the group was still negotiating, when Leid also said she wouldn't let the listeners in because there was a *banned person* among them. The culprit? Janice K. Bryant. When asked again why Bryant was banned several weeks ago, Leid was characteristically silent.

Another long-time community activist also had an altercation with Leid. There was yelling and supposedly name calling. This activist was then banned from the station--whether for the night or indefinitely, it wasn't clear. Leid once again vanished inside the station.

Then, with one security guard at the door, listeners tried to open the door of the station. At that point the NYPD came upstairs. Downstairs, there was still a sizable crowd in the lobby. The building owner then announced that those in the lobby had to leave because they were trespassing. Then more NYPD arrived. There were now a line of roughly 20 officers in the lobby of the building. All were cleared from the lobby, and the chanting continued outside in the street.

Then Leid came out a second time. The NYPD went into the station, spoke to Leid and one officer came out and spoke with members of the board. He said just the board could go in, and hold the meeting for one hour. And the door was opened.

Bruce Bentley then arrived from the National Lawyers Guild, with an update from the owner of the building, who said the owner would call the police, and charge anyone on the 10th floor with trespass and arrest if they stayed.

At one point, according to Kennedy, a community activist and listener tried to enter the station and was pushed against the wall by a WBAI staffer. Everyone on the 10th floor was forced to disperse. As of this writing, 10:30 p.m., 9 people refused to leave and were in the process of being arrested. The two women in wheel chairs refused to leave as well, but the NYPD refused to arrest them. Miguel Maldonado and Vincente Panama Alba were two LAB members among those arrested. Roughly 50 supporters outside the station remained on hand.

The names of folks arrested at WBAI tonight:

Miguel Maldonado (board member)
Vincente Panama Alba (board member)
Janice K. Bryant (banned and proud)
Ursula Ruttenberg (Concerned Friends heroine)
Peter (Lower East Side brother)
Steve Hardy
Nickie Lieffers
Donna Gould
Howard Brandstein

Arraignments will take place tomorrow between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. at 100 Centre St., lower Manhattan. Please come to support those arrested and spread the word. A Report to the Listener is scheduled for tomorrow at 7:00 a.m., 99.5 FM, streamed at www.wbai.org.

Eileen Sutton
Banned WBAI Unpaid News Reporter
Pacifica Reporters Against Censorship
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