Peaceful Protests Erupt Into Violence Near Republican National Convention

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NEW YORK (Monday, August 30) — Between 5,000 and 10,000
activists who gathered at the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights
Campaign (PPEHRC) rally at the United Nations yesterday were
allowed to march through mid-Manhattan despite the lack of a
permit, thanks to last minute deals brokered between the campaign’s
organizers and the New York Police Department. But most had no idea
what awaited them at the corner of 8th Avenue and 29th Street
shortly before 8 p.m.

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Just two blocks away from Madison Square Garden where the 2004
Republican National Convention was entering its first evening, the
police suddenly split the parade in two with barricades and batons.
Eyewitness reports confirmed that an undercover police officer in a
scooter rammed his way into the throngs of protestors, driving as
fast as 20 miles an hour, as the police were splitting the crowd,
before being knocked off and beaten by an angry demonstrator. The
Associated Press identified the instigator as detective William
Sample. The detective was later hospitalized with head injuries
that were not life threatening.

‘What kind of person would ram into dozens of people in a
scooter with a line of police behind him?’ asked protestor Gonzalo
Hereda afterwards in disbelief.

Police reacted to the melee by angrily shoving their barricade
gates into the crowds to push them down 29th Street and up 8th
Avenue, away from the skirmish. Despite holding media credentials
in full view, this journalist and others packed into the crowd like
sardines were bludgeoned by the barricades and forced to retreat an
entire city block by police who were engaged in a profanity-laced
tirade.

‘They kept coming at us with barricades, knocking people down,
and hitting them. They never told us what they were doing,’ said
Michael Duke, a local writer. ‘A lot of people found themselves
jammed up against the barricades.’

A protestor named Keeley reported seeing a policeman with a
moustache tackle a young woman who weighed no more than 100 pounds
and pull her down by her backpack. Keeley said his wrist was hit
repeatedly with a police baton.

‘I’ve never seen such a large group of police in my life descend
on one man,’ said Claire McDonnell, referring to a man who tried to
escape from the barricades, just as she had moments before.

‘They were pushing us with billy clubs into barricades and
knocking us over, yelling ‘Get Out, Get Out!” said Mariah Holding,
who marched with a sign yesterday proclaiming, My Mom earns
$5.15 an hour. My dad’s job was outsourced. We have no health
care.
‘It was very scary, and I am so disappointed with my
police department after things went so well on Sunday.’

Meanwhile, amidst the confusion, Mark, an organizer with the
Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign yelled into his
microphone asking people to disperse. He viewed the march as a
success because ‘we were able to march without a permit from the
U.N. to 29th street.’ Yet many, it seemed, had no idea that the
march wouldn’t be allowed to continue by Madison Square Garden.

‘I asked a policeman why this was happening after two days of
peaceful protests, and even though he agreed with me, he told me
that our march was illegal,’ said Megan Petersen.

Above all, confusion reigned. Stephen Foreback, a secret service
agent, claimed witness reports indicated that the fight had started
between an activist on the left and an activist on the right, and
that the police simply came in to stop the confrontation. ‘You
couldn’t find a more professional force than NYPD,’ he said
afterwards. ‘They acted with restraint throughout these
protests.’

Last night’s events all but shattered a tense, but peaceful
coexistence between protestors and the NYPD, built on the strength
of a successful and civil march by Madison Square Garden on Sunday
which was attended by half a million activists.

Once the police locked their barricades in place and a shaky
calm was restored, a young woman named Leah Alonzo was arrested for
chalking the words FREEDOM OF SPEECH on the corner where
the fight unfolded. Further up 8th Street a group of demonstrators
lay down on the pavement to spell out PEACE for the view
of the helicopters hovering overhead.

Though Sunday’s march was peaceful, the violence at the PPEHRC
march was not unprecedented during the anti-RNC protests. Sunday
evening a group of around 20 activists were walking around Times
Square singing ‘ain’t no power like the power of the people’ and
other cheers. They were cornered while singing and three people,
Greg Mac, Sarah Mosberg, and an unidentified person were tackled
and arrested. They were accused of blocking traffic in a pedestrian
walkway, though theatergoers regularly crowd these walkways. Police
arrested dozens after protestors confronted Republican delegates
outside Broadway theatres.

‘Sunday was basically just peaceful and joyous and beautiful and
I was so happy,’ Claire McDonnell summed up the different mood on
the street after yesterday’s debacle. ‘I just came back from
Argentina where there are protests all the time. I was scared of
the political spirit in America (before Sunday’s peaceful
demonstration). I saw all these people doing their own thing but
marching together.’

Fast forward to yesterday evening.

‘All of a sudden barricades came down in front us. People were
separated from their friends, people were trapped, and I had no
idea what to do. In 15 seconds everything went from being peaceful
and joyous to terrifying. It was totally senseless how they
barricaded off the last 200-500 people. If they’d waited literally
three minutes, they could have put the whole barricade behind
us.’

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