I arrived in our nation's Apple through Penn Station, expecting the worst. The angry tone of the Democrats had served, I was told, to make careerist protestors of the anarchist movement and the anti-global movement angrier than ever and eager for violence. Yet at Penn Station, all was quiet. The masses of New York cops seemed relaxed. Some were clearly bored. The only inconveniences I spied were barricades that directed me from my favorite exits for taxis to exits for the subway, which I took. Again there was only calm. The subway was crowded, but nothing was amiss.
On the streets, there are 10,000 members of the NYPD night and day. There are barricades. Still, the city remains relatively peaceful. The large demonstration of Sunday was peaceful. How do we explain this? The anti-globalists and anarchists who brought chaos to Seattle and Genoa are supposedly here in New York, too. Yet aside from isolated melees, they have yet to bring the city to a stop. Sources in and around the police department tell me the low level of violence is something the NYPD had been planning for throughout the past year. To begin with, the cops set out to infiltrate the organizations that were planning the demonstrations. Equally important, they developed strategies to allow demonstrations but to contain violence.
"Containing demonstrations and carefully stepping aside to give room for violence. This is a major challenge and a major skill," reports a longtime observer of the NYPD. He notes that New York has had no major riots since the 1980s. Violence was greatly feared at this convention owing to the huge number of Democrats who account for 80 percent of the registered voters in the city. Moreover police spies had picked up word that violence was being planned. Yet by slipping around violent demonstrators and containing them so their violence did not become infectious, the police have kept the convention sites relatively peaceful and secure.
In walking the streets and viewing the demonstrators, my mind went back to Chicago and the riot that broke out at the Democratic Convention in 1968. I spent time observing the demonstrators there and got away just before their taunting of the cops was crowned with victory -- namely, a police onslaught. The demonstrators in Chicago were more homogeneous than the demonstrators here. They were mostly middle-class white students opposed to the Vietnam War. Hillary Rodham was there. Possibly Bill Clinton and Jean-Francois Kerry were also there.