Caught Between Protesters and Police

Journalists barely escape arrest at the RNC demonstrations

On the whole, Sunday’s big march felt a bit spread out and disparate—in part because groups kept stopping to bellow and vamp outside Madison Square Garden, and in part because the police kept gumming up the works by holding sections back.

The anarchists in the "militant contingent" certainly helped slow things down by igniting a giant green dragon puppet in front of the Garden, using what police claimed to be a mixture of gunpowder and BBs. Riot cops stormed through the crowd to chase down and tackle the perpetrators, or anyone else who had a bandanna on or looked scary. At least 10 people were arrested, and a Gannett photographer complained he and other press members had gotten pelted with what he thought were golf balls.

I wish I could deliver more detail, but I too made a tactical blunder. Instead of mellowing out with the crowds who hopped on the subway to Central Park, I went to Times Square to cover the so-called Mouse Bloc—an open call to confront Republican delegates attending Broadway shows with in-your-face guerrilla theater.

Turns out Mouse Bloc was a mousetrap.

On Broadway, I plowed my bike directly into a skirmish between members of QueerFist, who had just finished a kiss-in and some other militantly autonomous group marching behind a banner that read: "RIGHT WING SCUM, YOUR TIME HAS COME." In the jostle and street sweep, I lost my notebook, and with it, the litany of homemade signs and slogans that I’d recorded from people who’d driven here from as far Ohio and Florida to make their opposition to Bush heard.

The police shoved us onto the sidewalk and cordoned off the area with orange netting, corraling me and several other members of the press with the demonstrators. One by one, the cops weeded out who was credentialed enough to escape arrest. (Warning to Indymedia folk: Your press card won’t keep you out of jail.)

While I was set free, scores of other demonstrators got cornered at various intersections by the police, who walled off Theater Row between Broadway and Eighth Avenue.

Police said there were about 240 arrests throughout the day—including 53 Bike Bloc riders who were rounded up around 34th Street.

The Mouse action had a few stellar, only-in–New York moments: the Missile Dick Chicks strutting like Rockettes in front of the military recruitment center, or the Billionaires for Bush flashing bling in front of a Broadway ticket window just as True Majority’s Bush mobile rolled by. (It’s basically a giant puppet of Dubya with his pants on fire, towed on a trailer, with an electronic ticker that flashes highlights of Bush’s "lies"—and it drew plenty of gawkers during the traffic jam caused by all the paddy wagons and police horses clogging Times Square.)

But the scene quickly devolved into a silly cat-and-mouse game, and delegates brushed off the mostly young demonstrators with little more than annoyance.

"If that’s how they want to spend their time instead of doing something more constructive, it’s a free country," shrugged Georgia state representative Sharon Cooper, who said she was planning to help pick up trash on Monday along the Hudson River as part of the GOP’s trumped-up effort to present itself as a "party of compassion."

Watch that line of attack get played out in the media this week.

 
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