The protestors in New York

Posted: Sep 02, 2004 12:00 AM

 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.

 Here in New York, the demonstrators are more diverse. There are old folks from the traditional antiwar organizations. There are members of the underclass, desperate and rather pathetic flounderers in the American rat race. Then there are the loony anarchists and anti-globalists. In the 1960s, we always wondered who was financing the demonstrators. Some of us thought Moscow was writing checks. Yet who could possibly be funding our current crazies? It is a question I would like to see answered.

 There are college students here, but they are not nearly as dominant as the college contingent in the 1968 protests in Chicago. Another difference is that these college demonstrators are more polite than the demonstrators in Hillary and Bill's day. The Chicago demonstrators were carefully trained to provoke the police to rampage, and they succeeded. It is different here. The NYPD is better prepared to simply suffocate the violent types.

 Yet all is not bliss. Sometimes the cops have acted without very good judgment. Sometimes they have actually swept up journalists and jailed them along with the protestors, despite the fact that the journalists were carrying proper credentials and in no way participating in protest. Sometimes the journalists they lock up are actually favorably inclined toward the police.

 In fact, I actually know of one such innocent victim. He is Shawn Maccomber, my first-string reporter covering the convention for The American Spectator. For an hour or so, the cops and federal police agencies bounced him back and forth between them, asking questions, checking his credentials and eventually taking the credentials from him before placing him in a cell with 40 slightly loco demonstrators. Then the cops committed one more blunder. One of them mentioned that Shawn was from The American Spectator, provoking a dismal night for him during which he was taunted ceaselessly by his cellmates.

 Yes, the NYPD is well trained in crowd control, but there are lapses even among the well-trained. I rather doubt Shawn is going to be writing as favorable a piece as this one about the NYPD. But first I want him to consult our lawyers. Then I want the name of the moron who mentioned his affiliation with the magazine as he was being locked up with these loutish demonstrators.