FIST' & CUFFS
Editor's Note: Richard Esposito's article "Law of the Fist: New York Cops Vow to Crush Violent Protest at World Economic Forum," which appeared in last week's issue, generated an unusual amount of mail. Following are some of the letters received.
Well, I guess your pretensions of a "Lefty New Year" [cover articles, January 1] didn't last too long. Having read Richard Esposito's "Law of the Fist," I have to say that I don't think the New York Post could've slanted the story as badly. For the future, I would ask you to bear in mind the form that violence takes at these large-scale demonstrations. When the two sides meet, it's the state that brings guns, tear gas, batons, concussion grenades, bulletproof vests, and Plexiglas shields; and when people get killed, as they have in the past year in Indonesia, Italy, and Argentina, it's inevitably someone who had an opinion and the courage to say it.
Richard Esposito's "Law of the Fist" was an embarrassing paean to law enforcement at its most brutal. The "violent anarchists" he mocks have been guilty at worst of breaking windows. Former Philly police chief John Timoney, on the other hand, while lauded as a blue-collar hero, showed protesters how brutal a police action could be. Hundreds of illegal arrests and injuries, million-dollar bails, clubs, firearmsit's time Esposito woke up and smelled the tear gas. The violence at such protests comes from the police.
Richard Esposito's statement that "In the post-9-11 world of law enforcement, cops see these brick throwers and car burners as almost Al Qaeda-like, down to their transnational wandering, their leaders' wealthy backgrounds, and their fundamentalist message" was irresponsible. If Esposito can't see the difference between well-meaning protesters and the fundamentalist terrorists who murdered thousands on September 11, he should find a new profession fast.
As an independent journalist, I am disappointed at how bluntly one-sided Richard Esposito's piece was, reporting the police's impressions so completely unchallenged. There was no presentation of protesters, no information regarding the WEF. In addition, the brief summaries concerning past protests contained glaring inaccuracies. In Melbourne 2000, activists were consistently nonviolent even when attacked by police, and there was no "urine" deployed by either side. In Philadelphia 2000, there were no "burned-out police cars." Charges against most protesters have been dropped, and the public is now waking up to the price of pending civil lawsuits. In Seattle 1999, there were no water cannons, nor were protesters "out of control." It was a disciplined protest.
The WEF came to NYC because they offered the lowest bid for security. The NYPD gives the impression that they will provide far greater security than at past demos, and city taxpayers will be footing much of the bill.
So much for solidarity. No thank you.
NYC Independent Media Center
Richard Esposito's article "Law of the Fist" is aptly named. It is not the law of the Constitution that will be played out at the WEF. What will transpire, in full collusion with the media, such as the Voice, is that police will run amok, violating rights of assembly and free speech. What has been wrought in preparation for rationalizing the use of police violence is a propaganda campaign by law enforcement with the willing assistance of writers like Esposito to sketch a picture of dangerous demonstrators who must be summarily dealt with.
What a shock to find the Voice trustingly accepting the word of law enforcement. No one from any group associated with those planning to protest is interviewed. Nowhere is there any review of the unnecessary use of pepper spray, tear gas, and clubbing by out-of-control police of nonviolent demonstrators in past demos. The actions of a few protesters who damaged property are used by police to justify meting out punishment to all activists.
With great craft, and with malice, law enforcement is setting the stage to rationalize police violence, and The Village Voice is a willing partner. Shame.
I'm appalled by Richard Esposito's article. Apart from inaccuracies such as the claim that there were "burned-out police cars" in Philadelphia, it seems peculiar to read a piece that cites cop after cop without any regard for the larger issues that might compel someone to demonstrate, or the reactions of activists and businesspeople to violenceincluding police violence. The Voice has done fine reporting on protests before. Why did it drop the ball so badly this time?
I'd like to thank Richard Esposito for his illuminating article "Law of the Fist," on the upcoming World Economic Forum. Perhaps Esposito could be hired to write a weekly column on the history of protest in the U.S. A few suggested highlights: Chief "Bull" Connor, the blue-collar Alabama hero who worked so hard to control disruptive, lawbreaking civil rights demonstrators; Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, the "fighting Quaker" who struggled selflessly to protect our country from globetrotting anti-capitalist troublemakers and whose innovations included the wonderful Palmer raids; and perhaps the tragically misunderstood King George III, a "globocop" who overcame severe health problems and manfully fought to save this land from violent, anti-corporate agitators.
I can't wait.
Richard Esposito's article may win the Voice brownie points with the NYPD and supporters of unrestricted movement of capital, and corporate rather than public control over vital economic functions, but as an analysis of the movement opposed to the latter it fails dismally to meet what I hope remain your journalistic standards.
Not a single protester was interviewedonly cops who had been "bloodied." Couldn't Esposito find any protesters who'd been "bloodied" by the police, and who could have told him what was going on from their points of view? Or wasn't he interested?
As for accusations of racism in the protest movement implicit in statements about police cadets performing as protesters, who were "nonwhite," "not yet college graduates," and "more likely to have a parent who was a partner in a bodega or a newsstand than an accounting firm," how many such people has Esposito encountered on the boards of the great corporations pushing the so-called "globalization" agenda?
P.S. In his litany of "anti-globalization" horrors, Esposito forgot to mention Göteborg, Sweden, where last June police barely missed beating their colleagues in Genoa, Italy, in being the first to murder a demonstrator. Let's hope we Swedes do better in the upcoming football championships!
M. Henri Day
It's good to see the Voice recognizing the outstanding work of the NYPD. Richard Esposito's article was the first in a long time that reflects the true nature of these professionals. Thanks for recognizing what the NYPD is about.
Office of Emergency Management
City of New York
Thulani Davis ["Spinning Race at Harvard," January 22] writes that the manuscript of Hannah Crafts's novel "was purchased by Harvard for $10,000 from Swann Galleries in New York." This will come as news to Harvard, and it will come as news to the Swann Galleries. Like much in her piece, it certainly came as news to me.
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Chair, Department of Afro-American Studies
Thulani Davis replies: I appreciate Gates pointing out that the manuscript, which the Africana.com Web site states is housed at Harvard, was not purchased by the university. Indeed, Gates himself was the only bidder for the manuscript, which sold for $9775.
Thulani Davis's essay "Spinning Race at Harvard" shows that the author has no understanding about the quality of Cornel West's academic work or social motivations. Among other falsehoods in the article, West did not call the press about his dispute with Harvard president Lawerence Summers, as Davis states. And who are the other professors called in and criticized in the style that West was spoken to "by all reports"?
In addition, Davis's notion that West is involved in a power play that somehow injures other scholars is ridiculous and of her own making. West's tremendous intellectual and spiritual generosity toward colleagues, students, and the public is locally and nationally known and profoundly appreciated. Scholars and artists in Latino communities have benefited from his brilliant intellect and critical affirmation of ways to renew democracy. In this case, his only power play is to interrogate Harvard's motto, "Veritas," in relation to scholarship and the exploration of new knowledge.
Davis also completely ignores the balanced, gracious, and understanding manner in which West has spoken in media interviews about his recent conversation with President Summers.
After reading this mean-spirited and troubling distortion of Cornel West's work and intentions, I'm led to ask about The Village Voice, what is your motto? "Spin"?
Neil L. Rudenstine Professor
of the Study of Latin America
Thulani Davis shows spunk by challenging Harvard's "Skip Machine," a term used by the late Dr. Barbara Christian (Black Women Novelists), who complained until the day of her death that she was exploited by this operation. Spawned by middle-class feminists, wealthy "progressives," and "neoconservatives" who approve of the Machine's tendency to put racism in the background (the "post-black" scam embraced by outfits like The New York Times and The New Yorker), the "Skip Machine" has power over which black intellectuals will thrive, and which will vanish.
It's about time that a serious wordsmith like Ms. Davis began to raise questions about this tyranny. Good for her!
Hooray and thanks to Thulani Davis for spinning out of the Gates-West spin business. Well and bravely done!
Professor, African American Studies
University of California
Re "Fade to White" by N. Jamiyla Chisholm [January 29]: Skin bleaching is not just an African or black issue. The "whiter is better" mentality affects practically every society of color today. One of Japan's best-selling cosmetic products for women is skin-whitening cream, and that sentiment is manifest throughout Asia. Until those who perpetuate such ridiculous standards of beauty are taught differently, things will stay the same.
AMSTERDAM NO NEWS
N. Jamiyla Chisholm's article on skin bleaching was interesting, but this practice has also been going on for years in the U.S.
It was very common for certain African American entertainers even up to the Motown era. It still goes on, but thank God for the ever-increasing trend of self-acceptance no matter who you are!
In appreciation of Tom Robbins's "The Last Working-Class Diner" [January 22]: Long live the Jones Diner, along with Katz's Deli, and Yonah Schimmel. As a former New Yorker, I know they're about more than the food; they're the very stuff of New York. Now, so soon after the devastation of the WTC, is not the time to be destroying New York's icons. Build an upscale diner someplace else!
Due to a production error, the ending of Guy Maddin's "Happy Ever After" was omitted from last week's paper. The article in its entirety can be found online.
CELEBRATING J.A. LOBBIA
A celebration of the life of Village Voice columnist J.A. Lobbia will be held on Saturday, February 2, at 2 p.m. For further information, call (212) 334-9230 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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