Day of Rage

Behind the scenes of the NYPD crackdown at the GOP convention

But the NYPD's own hard-line tactics predate Seattle, Vitale said, going back to September 1998 and Khalid Muhammad's Million Youth March in Harlem. Beforehand, Mayor Giuliani had spoken out vehemently about Muhammad's racist rhetoric and tried to rescind their permit. The demonstration ended with police storming the stage minutes after the event ran over its allotted time.

"They (NYPD) are obsessed with order maintenance, this kind of zero-tolerance mentality about disorder," Vitale said. "So they micromanage every aspect of a demonstration."

That tactic can come with a price. In large part because of what transpired on A31, 96 lawsuits have been filed against the city, representing about 565 arrestees, according to the city's law department officials. One estimate pegs the combined damage claims at somewhere near $860 million, an amount that will climb if a judge grants a request to allow a class action lawsuit that would include the rest of the approximately 1,800 arrested at the convention. (So far, only 11 RNC claims have been settled, totaling $319,293.24, according to officials at the comptroller's office.)

A compliant news media is needed for the "Miami model" to work effectively. A civilian investigative panel reviewing the Miami protest concluded that an "overwhelming emphasis was placed on potential violent protesters" by the police and local media in the run-up to the event. This creates a "protest paradigm" in which "the media pits the protesters against the police," taking focus off the issues that prompted the demonstrations, the report states.

"The Miami Model" deployed in New York City: surveillance, preventative mass arrests, and extended detentions
photo: Richard B. Levine
"The Miami Model" deployed in New York City: surveillance, preventative mass arrests, and extended detentions

In New York, stories touting potential violence by "anarchists" at the convention first appeared in early April 2004 and steadily increased with the passing months. Days before the RNC, one story proclaimed that "50 of the country's leading anarchists" were expected. The story didn't explain the anarchist rating system.

"They got people all hepped up," Moore said. "Folks on the street were assuming everybody [protesting] was going to be a terrorist."

The cops had reason to be "hepped up" themselves. Beforehand, NYPD officers had received "Legal Guidelines for the Republican National Convention," a then confidential document painting a grim picture of what to expect.

First there were projectiles to watch out for: "rocks, paving stones, bottles, batteries, ball bearings, nuts and bolts, billiard and golf balls, hockey pucks, nail-filled potatoes . . . " Frozen water balloons could be dropped from rooftops, and "protesters may utilize devices such as wrist rockets, slingshots, large rubber bands, paint ball guns, and lacrosse sticks to launch projectiles."

In addition, cops were told they had to worry about "bodily fluids and toxic commercial liquid products" including "blood, urine, and feces, as well as ammonia, bleach, battery acid, glass etching solution/hydrofluoric acid, gasoline, paint, and magnesium," any of which could be delivered "via spray and squirt bottles, super soakers, canteens, zip-locked bags, hollowed eggs, and balloons."

Danger lurked even in the seemingly innocuous. Marching bands' "amplified music may be used to interfere with police radio communications." Large puppets could be used to conceal weapons and so on. But nothing described in the document ever actually occurred.

In the spring of 2004, NYPD brass discussed its available non-lethal weapons: "pepper-ball type grenades, pepper ball launchers, rubber bullets, sound machines" and "water cannons," according to a deposition of Deputy Inspector Terence Monahan in December 2005. But Monahan said all agreed, "if we had to utilize any of those devices, we had failed."

That summer, NYPD "Intel" cops trolled websites like Bikes Against Bush and Counter Convention and attended a conference called "Mayhem at the RNC" at a midtown hotel, where a character called "ShapeShifter" spoke about methods of disruption such as becoming an RNC volunteer and then not showing up, leaving the event understaffed.

As the RNC neared, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen gave a PowerPoint presentation naming potentially trouble-causing groups. Though problems could happen at any time, he said, there was one day they expected trouble.

"There was mention about a date, August 31, that the groups had been planning for a day of civil disobedience and potential violence," Mon- ahan said. When asked if there were any other RNC dates of concern, Monahan said, "No."

As if on cue, "A31" started with a scenario straight from "Legal Guidelines." Before the sun came up, Monahan, who headed the 1,250-officer Mobile Field Force that dealt with spontaneous protests, was called to Wall Street, where about a dozen people were arrested after roping off an intersection.

Later, after escorting a small, unpermitted march downtown, Monahan got a call from then deputy inspector Thomas Galati advising that a large group had gathered at the World Trade Center site. In his deposition, Monahan said an NYCLU official had told him to expect "no more than 20 to 30 people" there and called it a "non-event." (The official named denied having said that.)

Minutes later, Monahan arrived at ground zero, red-faced and screaming that "anyone with the media that blocks the street will be arrested." By then, Galati had spoken extensively with Ed Hedemann, one of the War Resisters League organizers. As the march slowly stepped off, Monahan asked Galati to fill him in on the protesters' plans. Galati said Hedemann indicated the group was going to make its way to Madison Square Garden and hoped to stage a "die-in" on the convention floor.

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