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Sunday, August 15, 2004

Picnic in the Park? NOT!

Close the city and tell the people that something's coming to call
Death and darkness are rushing forward to take a bite from the wall, oh
You've nothing to say
They're breaking away
If you listen to fools...
The Mob Rules

- Black Sabbath ("The Mob Rules")
So, the Hive-mind (aka the Republican National Convention) is set to infest NYC at the end of the month and it looks like the opening salvo will belong to the march organised by United for Peace and Justice. UFPJ wants the march to end at the Great Lawn in Central Park, but the City has nixed that idea:
According to Megan Sheekey, a spokesperson for New York City’s Parks and Recreation Department, the 1997 reconstruction of the park reduced the Great Lawn’s maximum capacity to 80,000. If UFPJ were to gather a quarter-million there, Sheekey says in an e-mail, "the repair of the resulting damage in the park would be extremely costly and force all activity on the Great Lawn and surrounding areas to end during the period of repair." For example, she explains, Little League games next summer might have to be canceled.

The city suggested that protesters congregate instead within the lovely open asphalt and concrete of the West Side Highway, which will be penned in à la the protest zone at the DNC. "There is a sense that they are trying to take the park off the table for demonstration purposes," says Jeff Fogel, of the Center for Constitutional Rights. "It’s looking like New York is saying the only place you can have demonstrations is on the edge of town, by the river."
The "damage to the grass" argument is quite nicely shot down (with photo, yet) in a post at Max Blumenthal's blog. Probably the best summing up of the controversy underlying the march route can be found over at The Mahablog. While I don't agree with Mama Maha's assessment of the extent of the situation ("Think Kent State." sez she; "Think 1968, Chicago." sez I), the potential for some truly ugly happenings is there.

And both sides are gearing up for it, on the right:
Delegates to the Republican National Convention will arrive in a city that remains a target for terrorists possibly plotting a Madrid-style rail attack, New York's top law enforcement official said Tuesday.

Yet the nation's largest police department -- 36,000 officers in all -- has the might and the expertise to secure the convention as well as to keep order amid mass demonstrations, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in an interview with The Associated Press.


Police will use bomb dogs to screen subway and commuter trains and will use high-tech cameras to screen cars. About 10,000 officers -- some armed with handheld radiation detectors -- will flood the streets around Madison Square Garden, site of the convention Aug. 30 to Sept. 2
And on the left:
Yes, we live in a police state. Martial law is a reality. The cops are capable of and overly willing to use excessive force to squelch the messages of protesters and disperse any crowds gathered for the purpose of interfering with business as usual. Going into a demo or a street party, keep in mind that they are much better equipped and trained for close combat than you. They are confident that the law is behind them and against you. So beating the police is about outwitting them, not necessarily hitting them over the head.

Know Thy Enemy -The objectives of the police are:
1) To break the spirit of the crowd by intimidating and breaking up the crowd into 'manageable' portions.
2) To provoke violence to justify their own actions and identify 'leaders'.
3) Stop the trouble spreading by surrounding the crowd.
4) Gather evidence for later.

The aims of the protester are not to 'win', but to be unhurt & free.
1) March or demonstrating in public view.
2) Cause embarrassment and economic damage to political targets.
3) To not be diverted or split into smaller groups by the police.
So what we have here is a recipé for disaster: Lots of hyped-up protesters (including the obligatory minority lot of lefter-than-left extremists) and an awful lot of tense, heavily-outfitted Varks (and their obligatory minority of trigger-happy morons) lurching about the streets of NYC in the hot, end-of-August humidity...all it will take is the behavior of one or two real idiots (on either side) to set things off.

Let the games begin...

UPDATE (9 pm): Here's the overseas view on what's coming, courtesy of The Guardian.

Humble Note of Acknowledgement: I am indebted to Harlan Ellison for the term "Vark" as a reference to the police, which I originally came across in one of his essay collections (I believe it was in The Glass Teat). The idea was to come up with a term you could use to insult the police without them really being sure they were being insulted. It comes from the Afrikaans word "aardvark" ("aarde"=earth + "vark"=pig).