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Interview with Prof. Jay E. Kantor PHD.




A class of psychiatry students in the School of Medicine went to their lecture Sept. 1 as they would on any other day and waited for their professor. they would on any other day and waited for their professor. Unlike most days, he never showed up.

A board at the Hudson Valley Veteran's Hospital also waited patiently for its medical ethics expert to appear for a consultation. He, too, was nowhere to be found. Jay Kantor, an NYU professor, could not make either appearance, because he was incarcerated in a jail in lower Manhattan. Kantor, who has taught medical ethics and psychiatry at NYU for 18 years, left his Brooklyn home Aug. 31 with only a small digital camera and a ballpoint pen. Kantor had heard about a peaceful protest underway at ground zero that afternoon, and decided he wanted to "add a body" to it. He got off the subway just before 4 p.m. near the World Trade Center site, and moments later he was ordered onto a sidewalk and handcuffed by police. "There was no reason for this. It was absolutely peaceful stuff," Kantor said. "All of the sudden they came up and told us we were detained." It was only 4:02 p.m. "New York is the upholder of rights, the center of freedom," Kantor said. "It shocked me."

He was placed on a bus and taken to Pier 57 on the Hudson River in Chelsea, where police had set up a temporary holding facility for arrested protesters. "They had cages prepared for us already," Kantor said. His pen and camera were seized from his pocket, and he was placed in the razor wire-enclosed pen. The facility's floor was chemically stained from the city buses once housed there. "There were some cops who were sympathetic," Kantor said, describing how some officers threw a few bologna and peanut-butter sandwiches to the detainees. "But for the most part, they were not." Kantor, who broke his sternum nine years ago and suffers from chronic pain, requires frequent medication. Not anticipating that afternoon's events, Kantor had left his pills at home. He begged to be released, insisting he did nothing illegal and needed medical attention. His two cats, Zafferano - who is sick with megacolon and needs precise care - and Louie, were without food in Brooklyn. How did the police react? They tightened his handcuffs.

Kantor was then shipped to the jail known as the Tombs on Centre Street near City Hall. At 4:30 a.m. on Sept. 1, more than 12 hours after his arrest, he was permitted to make a phone call. He immediately called a friend and asked her to feed his cats. "They were scared," Kantor said, "but OK." At 8:30 p.m., he was formally charged with two counts of disorderly conduct and one count of parading without a permit, for spending just five minutes protesting on a city street, Kantor said. "Screw that," he said. "I'm pleading not guilty." He was released at 1 p.m. that day after 22 hours in jail. He will appear in court on Oct. 6 to fight the charges with the aid of an attorney provided by a nonprofit organization.

Kantor is no stranger to protest, or the risks involved with demonstrations. "I was arrested for trespassing on the Senate steps in D.C. during the Vietnam War," he said. "But this time, I didn't even do anything. I had just gotten off the subway." Kantor returned to his classes and his colleagues on Sept. 2, but he admitted he felt nervous about explaining his absence, worrying that it might seem "inappropriate." But he said he was relieved after receiving "a tremendous amount of support, both public and private." Despite feeling that he didn't deserve the praise for simply walking off a subway, Kantor said the experience "made me feel good." Kantor said he encourages students to protest if they, too, feel upset about the government's actions. "Whatever they believe, they have an obligation [to voice it]," he said. "I know protests helped stop the Vietnam War, I'm sure of it." He added, "Maybe these protests will do something." Two weeks later, Kantor, Zafferano and Louie have all recovered from the experience, although Kantor is still trying to recover his seized pen and digital camera. Kantor said the experience has made him lose faith in the legal system. "It's horrible, just horrible," Kantor said. He'd expect to be jailed if he had knowingly broke the law, but not for walking down the street. "When you haven't done anything, you're paying the price for something you didn't buy," Kantor said. "All of the positive feelings I had about the police after 9/11, I don't feel that anymore."