Eyewitness News

Cops, Clubs, Chaos, And Camaraderie At The Vigil

Last week's "political funeral" for Matthew Shepard started out peacefully enough at 57th Street. But everything changed as the marchers overflowed the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue on their way to a rally at Madison Square Park. Here, four eyewitness accounts:

I had been one of the coffin bearers for most of the march, but I was a few yards ahead of them when a line of cops in riot gear jumped onto the sidewalk right in front of me... shoving me backward with their plastic shields and batons. I was afraid and enraged. I pushed back and screamed inarticulately at them, "We have a right to be on the sidewalk. What you're doing is illegal."

When I came to my senses I went back to see if the coffin and bearers were all right. Some of them were young students from the Harvey Milk School. We decided to bring the coffin through the crowd to the line of cops. The coffin had more of an effect than we imagined. When one cop saw the brown, fencelike coffin approaching, he broke from his place and attacked us. --Kelly Jean Cogswell

A liberal is a conservative who's been brutalized by police.
Meryl Levin
A liberal is a conservative who's been brutalized by police.


I guess I should be happy, now that I have been officially labeled by the New York Post as an "activist." The Post ran a picture 10/20/98 in its "Gay Riot" coverage of several of us lying on the street (that's me in the lower left--balding, glasses, business suit and tie). The caption said "Activists... defy police by lying in the street... "

We were lying in the middle of West 43rd Street, because the plainclothes cop in the striped shirt and the doughnut belly (upper center, face cropped) had just shoved us to the pavement.

I ran like hell from work to join this demonstration--I, too, had been shocked, saddened, and angered by Matt Shepard's murder, and I, too, have been a victim of antigay violence. Since I was coming from the E train, I wound up in front of the march--first by default, and then by choice. Therefore, I was there when I saw police piling on some poor guy. I saw police motorcycles race through the crowd, without siren or horn, or any other warning. I was in the group hemmed in on 43rd Street, next to a 19-year-old woman from Barnard (100 pounds, soaking wet), who was apparently such a threat to a six-three burly cop that he shoved her into a parked car. I was there when the Mounties came to the "rescue" and charged the crowd, knocking over people.

They say a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged. I guess a liberal is a conservative who's been brutalized by police. --Doug Curlin


We were packed into a makeshift men's "bull" pen: 68 gay and bisexual men, one drag queen who had fought the cops at the 1969 Stonewall rebellion that ignited the gay liberation movement, and--unbeknownst to some of the police--one transgendered female. For those who might forget how righteous anger against oppression can nurture tender, compassionate consciousness, I had my own personal reminder... I was the only female-bodied person in the men's cellblock that I knew of... I had already endured one brutal "pat-down" by male cops, but we were still awaiting transfer to the custody of Department of "Corrections" officers. I wondered how I would survive the perils of the night.

However, from the moment I was arrested, many of the men detained with me recognized me as a trans activist and author. Once inside the cellblock, a small group of gay and bisexual men approached me. One brother wrapped his arm around my shoulder. "We know who you are," he said. "We are honored to count you among us tonight. We'll do everything we can to help you." And they did. --Leslie Feinberg, via Workers World News Service, reprinted from the October 29, 1998, issue of Workers World newspaper


The most amazing thing happened at the very end. As people had set candles and signs and flowers down to form a blazing memorial, and as I was crying by myself, someone I had never met came up behind me and hugged me.

As I left the park, to face the hundreds of police blocking off Broadway and Fifth Avenue at 23rd Street, I saw a woman standing by a fence. She was crying quietly, trying to stop and unable to. I stopped and said, "Hey, are you okay?" She said, "You know, it's just so hard... you know?" I nodded, and touched her shoulder and said, "Yeah, I do." She began walking, and looked back at me and said, "Thanks." I said, "Someone just did that for me." --Liz Tracey


One of four articles in our Matthew Shepard: Beyond the Fence feature.

 
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