Thursday, May 11, 2006

RNC in NYC 04

At the Republican National Convention in NYC two years ago, there was this long controversy because protestors wanted to rally at Central Park, but the city wouldn't let them. Mayor Bloomberg made two arguments against using the park that were so inane, they were demeaning. Argument 1) protests will hurt the grass. Argument 2) terrorists will be able to get to protestors more easily in the Park than on the city streets where the mayor intended to confine all demonstrations. It always hurts when the mayor puts fancy horticulture above 1st amendment rights, but I found the second "we're doing this for your own good" reason particularly vile. At the time, there were rumors that Bush did not want protestors to amass at Central Park because it would make clear how large their numbers were. It’s possible Bloomberg kept protestors out of Central Park partially as a favor to Bush, and partially because he spent a lot of his personal millions to restore grass at the Park (the security issue was a joke).

The protests in the streets happened. It’s no secret that police dislike protestors. Some protestors may deserve this sentiment; for example Critical Mass is stupid. From what I can tell it’s a protest that protests the last Critical Mass protest. Even outside Critical Mass, if you’re a punk kid and you want to yell at the cops, throw stuff at them, set off smoke bombs, and generally ask to get arrested at demonstrations, then the NYC Police Department will happily accommodate your wishes. I imagine, you will be an easy arrest. That type of punk kid was not who was protesting during the Republican National Convention. It was moms and dads, grandparents, a few vets, and students of all colors from every demographic in NYC and beyond. And the cops treated everyone like punk kids. I was there and I didn’t see one person break a law or disrespect a cop. Still 240 people were arrested. As part of this, newspapers are now reporting on incidents where people were arrested at Fulton Street and Herald Square possibly without getting intelligible instructions on how to avoid arrest. Cops didn’t use bullhorns, but yelled at the crowds. Protestors may not have heard them, responded in a manner unsatisfying to police, and got arrested. All the police commissioner Raymond Kelly had to say was that cops don’t need to warn protestors before arresting them. This may be a violation of the First Amendment. Let’s look at the entire amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

What’s that next to freedom of the press (I see nothing about permits)? Does Ray Kelly mean to argue that failure to respond quickly to possibly inaudible directions from a cop constitutes a non-peaceable assembly? All you have to be is peaceful at a protest. Slow or confused responses to an officer’s orders which some may not have clearly heard is in my mind peaceful.

If by some chance you’re still reading and you’re interested in writing a polite email to Bloomberg expressing your thoughts on this or any other issue you can do so through this link.

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