Native New Yorkers Bristle at RNC Police Presence

When Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao took the stage in Madison
Square Garden on Wednesday during the Republican National
Convention, she proclaimed, ‘It’s so great to be here in New York!’
The crowd’s golf-clap response was less than enthusiastic. Outside
the garden, Chao’s sentiment met a similarly unenthusiastic
reception. ‘Please book me now. Charge me with anything. Just get
these handcuffs off me,’ begged Steve Cohn, a New York native and
Wall Street employee who was being arrested for disorderly conduct,
though his demeanor seemed far from disorderly. ‘I was just
peacefully protesting on the corner,’ he said as an arresting
officer confiscated his glasses. ‘These handcuffs are way too
tight. I study jazz bass. I can’t feel my fingers. I’m getting
scared.’

As peaceful protesters watched one of their ranks get arrested
on Tuesday in Union Square, they spontaneously burst into the
chant, ‘Show me what a police state looks like: This is what a
police state looks like!’ Though it seems like hyperbole when read
in a newspaper, the cry echoed a sentiment felt by many New Yorkers
throughout the RNC’s stay — New York was no longer their own.
Watching arrests at the die-in on Wednesday, Scott Link, a New York
resident and former Fulbright Scholar, was reminded of his travels
as a student. ‘There’s more security here than in East Berlin in
1983. There, there was just one checkpoint coming into the city.
Here, the rules change every five minutes.’ His colleagues,
apparently, felt the same way. ‘Everyone’s pissed off. Half my
office is off. Everyone that’s able to leave the city has left the
city.’

Many NYPD officers would probably have preferred that option. As
protesters milled about Union Square Wednesday night, a police
officer chatted amiably with some of the more prominent organizers,
even buying several anti-Bush stickers from a street vendor. As
they dispersed the crowd surrounding the die-in earlier that
evening, most officers were sternly cordial. ‘Let’s do this
peacefully, let’s work together,’ said one officer as he slowly
inched his bike towards the restless onlookers. ‘Just doing my job,
nothing personal.’ Still, other protester-police interactions were
not so polite. One New Yorker, a woman in her early 40s who was
walking home when she paused briefly to look at an arrest, was
harassed by an officer behind the barricade. ‘We got these cuffs
ready for you right here,’ the officer shouted, prominently
displaying the objects in question, ‘You just come on over here and
get in them.’

In addition to such street-level inconvenience, harassment, and
arrest, many New Yorkers were also concerned about the financial
ramifications of such a large police apparatus, which one resident
described as ‘Four to five times bigger than just after 9/11.’
Pointing to a particularly large group of riot gear-clad cops and
shouting over the incessant din of police helicopters, Link
explained, ‘The federal government is not going to cover this. Tax
revenue is not going to cover this. This is going to come out of
our pockets. It’s even tax-free week for clothes!,’ referring to
the temporary citywide discount that uncannily coincided with the
convention. It’s not surprising, then, that many New Yorkers
unequivocally swore off the whole scene. ‘I’m not pro-Bush,’ said
Eric Parker, another resident, ‘But these protests are stupid. It’s
a waste of time, just people jumping on the bandwagon. I can’t even
walk around anymore, there’s all this crap going on.’ Still, many
New Yorkers put a more specific finger on the root of the troubles.
As Cohn stood by the Garden, hands going numb as he waited to be
jailed, he gestured towards his arresting officers. ‘I don’t blame
anybody here. I blame Mayor Bloomberg. This is his fault.’

UTNE
UTNE
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