Protesters Play Hardball

Election '04

The protests had been fairly peaceful, and the police had been fairly... fair. That all changed at an ad hoc protest on Tuesday evening in the busy shopping district around Herald Square in Manhattan, where dozens of arrests involved, at times, the unnecessary use of force. It began with just a handful of protesters shouting at an outdoor taping of MSNBC�s Hardball in the square at around 6:30 pm.

According to witnesses, police began to fence off every street corner in a three block radius worried that these MSNBC hecklers and others would focus their attacks on a group of RNC delegates en route to the convention. This created paths that only delegates were permitted to use. The arrests and senseless shows of force started when protesters got stuck behind the netting.

According to Al Bond, a 43-year old professor from Oregon, two girls jumped the police fence to cross the street. Bond said, "Police caught up and tackled them to the pavement. One girl was so small, and she fell face first against the pavement. She must have broken her jaw. The cops didn�t have to do that."

A few minutes later, two men broke off from the fenced-in crowd and sprinted for the Hardball stage, a comet tail of cops running after them. The crowd cheered them on, screaming, �I love you� and �You�re my inspiration.� The two men reached the stage and pounded on the Hardball set's table before being tackled and taken away. Moments later, at least 20 officers on horseback formed a barrier between the protesters and the stage.

Joan Gaylord, a Herald Square protester who'd already been witness to other arrests, overheard a police order for the public to disperse. She was careful to note that, as in earlier cases when protesters were rounded up and arrested, the order hadn�t come over a public announcement system, nor a bullhorn. As a result, people had been arrested without ever knowing that they were ordered to leave. Al Bond had seen similar tactics take place at Sunday's march with a large group having been split off and arrested for no apparent reason.

Gaylord escorted me out of the specified area and told me she was furious at the Republicans. "The RNC doesn�t have any business being here. It�s a Democratic city, and they only came to exploit 9/11. The Republican administration has been disastrous for NYC. They haven�t given us adequate funding, and the convention is hurting business."

After the sound of sirens and yelling abated, Gaylord told me that she works �in religion� and that she reads the bible daily. �I am enraged that Bush has used the bible for personal gain,� she told me. As she walked away, she started blowing bubbles to �disperse the tension." Whether her soapy bubbles were the catalyst for the ensuing calm among the protesters, we'll never know. Either way, it was short-lived as clots of protesters streamed down side streets in an attempt to block buses that were carting delegates to and from the convention site. One of the groups managed to block traffic completely before they were arrested – another two dozen in the pen.

I stuck around in Herald Square as reports and whispers hinted at yet another round of civil disobedience. I happened to stand next to a journalist in the crowd. A man in a banker�s suit began screaming, "No more Bush!" directly behind us. The reporter shoved the screamer and said, "I don�t need you to shout in my ear." When an onlooker asked the reporter what outlet he worked for, he thrust his credentials in her face and asked with a sneer, "What are you going to do, take down my corporate media?" The man in the suit returned to screaming "No more Bush!" The reporter turned and advanced in a threatening manner, words were exchanged, and onlookers restrained him. A woman handed the reporter a pair of new ear plugs, saying "You don�t have to hear the shouts." The reporter threw the earplugs at one of the guys who restrained him, and after another round of "No more Bush" from the guy in the suit, the reporter leapt at the protester. The crowd once again broke the two up, and the reporter was forced to leave the scene.

Another reporter who'd witnessed the altercation told me that there were stooges "all over the city hired to provoke fights and cause arrests." Maybe the reporter was a stooge, or it could be that he was just another fair and balanced journalist flaunting his objectivity.

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