The NYPD is out of control

After the Critical Mass ride, I suspected

it. The following day, I thought

it might just be a bike thing. But events today have made it clear: everything

we thought we knew about the NYPD’s ability to manage protest is wrong. Today,


550 arrests, bringing the total well over the 1,000 level. Here’s the New

York Times, which has not been noticeably protestor-friendly:

The turning point appeared to come as several hundred protesters with the

War Resisters League tried to begin a march up Fulton Street that organizers

had negotiated with police, although they did not have a permit. Ed Hedemann,

one of the organizers, said their understanding was that if they stayed on

the sidewalk and did not block foot traffic or vehicles, they could proceed

toward Madison Square Garden. But within minutes, the protesters were confronted

by a line of police officers who told demonstrators they were blocking the

sidewalk and would be arrested, although they did not appear to be blocking

pedestrian traffic at that point. A commanding officer, telling the crowd

of about 200 "you’re all under arrest," ordered other officers to

bring the "prison van" and the "orange netting" with which

to enmesh the protesters.

"We don’t know why we are being arrested, we were just crossing the street,"

said Lambert Rochfort, who was among the protesters. "We were told if

we don’t do anything illegal we would be allowed to march on the sidewalk

and we did just that. Then they arrested us for no apparent reason."

These are tactics we’re beginning to get used to. The orange netting –

that came out first on Friday; the police would use it to stretch across two

ends of a block, and arrest everybody in the middle. The mass arrests; the needless

antagonism; the way in which the NYPD seems determined to make sure every protestor

in the city considers them the enemy. It’s all utterly stupid, and I can’t for

the life of me work out why they’re behaving this way.

Ironically enough, the "New York City Welcomes Peaceful Political Activists"


is still up, although its rhetoric is increasingly hollow. "New York City

– a melting pot, home of the Statue of Liberty and first capital of this

nation that was founded on the basis of freedom of expression – welcomes

all peaceful visitors," it says. "There is no better place than New

York to speak one’s mind and have one’s message heard."

There’s been precious little regard for freedom of expression this week: I

think the arrest

of Josh Kinberg is probably the clearest single indication of that. At this

point, you don’t even need to be marking the sidewalks with chalk or riding

bikes more than two abreast to get arrested; merely marching on a route which

has been negotiated with the police is enough, if you don’t happen to have a

permit. And the stories

from the diesel-sludge-filled holding cell show that the NYPD is intent on making

life as miserable as possible for those they hold.

One commenter on this blog said

that after similar arrests at a Critical Mass event in Los Angeles in 2000,

eventually the LAPD had to pay out a lot of money in class action claims. They

NYPD, with its indiscriminate behaviour, has to be risking a rash of similar

lawsuits, and I can’t see what the upside is.

The downside isn’t purely financial, either: it seems pretty clear that the

one standout incident

of real violence was prompted by police aggression. Of course, anybody who beats

a police officer unconcious deserves to go to jail for an extremely long time:

there’s absolutely no excuse for such behaviour. On the other hand, any police

force in the world should be able to tell you that if you get aggressive with

a penned-in and angry crowd, violence is likely to result. In this

case, the police officer who was hurt was one of a phalanx of plain-clothes

police who rode their scooters straight into the crowd. I saw the same thing

happen on Friday: it’s scary, I can tell you.

Walking down the street today, alone, nowhere near any demonstrations, I passed

a police van. The occupants were just sitting around: one was eating a banana.

But I got some nasty-looking stares, all the same, and felt a hell of a lot

more threatened than protected by their presence. And I was looking perfectly

presentable, without a single item of protest-style clothing on.

Over the past few days, the NYPD has created a climate of fear and resentment

in New York. Of the thousand people arrested, I’d wager that fewer than 10 were

being at all violent, and that most are the kind of New Yorkers who have been

slowly coming to trust and respect their police since the low point of the Amadou

Diallo shooting. Now,

all those people, and their friends, will be mistrustful and fearful of the

police all over again. And no longer will I be able to look smugly at Seattle

or Genoa and say that New

York’s police are much better than that, a cut above, well trained and highly


The weird thing is that New York really has been very good at dealing with

protests in the past. The anti-war marches last year, the demonstrations at

the World Economic Forum in 2002 and the UN Millennium Assembly in 2000 –

all went off very smoothly. Someone high up in the NYPD – I have no idea

who, and I certainly have no idea why – has clearly made a decision that

there will be lots of arrests at the RNC this year. There will surely be debates

about whether the arrests will make the Republicans look better on national

TV; all I know for sure is that they will severely damage New Yorkers’ faith

in their own police force.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to The NYPD is out of control

  1. City under siege

    As you can imagine, my arrest didn’t exactly endear the…

  2. City under siege

    As you can imagine, my arrest didn’t exactly endear the…

  3. City under siege

    As you can imagine, my arrest didn’t exactly endear the…

  4. Tilli (Mojave Desert) says:

    what’s happening with the police/fireman contract negotiations/strike?

    maybe they think these tough actions can be used as bargaining leverage.

    “Look Bloomberg, we did you a favor” kind of thing?

  5. jeff elam says:

    felix, i agree with most you had to say except this bit “most [protesters] are the kind of New Yorkers who have been slowly coming to trust and respect their police”

    i completely disagree with you here. most of these protesters are out of towners visiting new york to cause havoc, trouble and anarchy. i feel no sympathy for these spoiled, white bastards.

  6. Michelle says:

    Has there been a lot of out-of-towners who are instigating the arrests? I doubt it. I think the police are motivated by something else and they are especially picking on protesters with out permits.

  7. Giles Hoover says:

    Jeff said:

    “i feel no sympathy for these spoiled, white bastards.”

    Jeff, what about the blacks, tans, and other colors who flooded New York this week? Do they not disturb you? Or are white people the only out-of-towners you don’t like?

    Seriously, please feel free to say that you have no sympathy — but give the slurs a break. For all of us.

  8. War Blogging says:

    More on the NYPD

    Felix Salmon has a different perspective on the behavior of the NYPD — he says .

  9. NYPD is out of control

    Commentary on NYPD following the last days events (via Mike, who has great photos from the ‘war zone’)…

  10. NYPD is out of control

    Commentary on NYPD following the last days events (via Mike, who has great photos from the ‘war zone’)…

  11. NYPD is out of control

    Commentary on NYPD following the last days events (via Mike, who has great photos from the ‘war zone’)…

  12. Dazzle2112 says:

    Any sympathy I had for protestors went out the window when the Critical Mass riders started whining like babies about the–about–one day they spent in holding. Give us all a break! If you engage in civil disobedience, expect to be arrested and learn how to deal with it without whining.

    And the icing on the cake is United for Peace and Justice is calling the holding area “Guantanamo on the Hudson”! Good lord! Talk about self-congratulatory exagerations!

    As for the comments about rich white kids, you know what, a good percentage of the protestors are rich white kids. Not all of them, but let’s face facts. Who else can take off FULL days in the middle of a work week to spend in drum circles and engaging in civil disobedience? Children of privledge is who! The rest of us have these silly things called “jobs” we need to go to. And I could barely take half-a-day off to deal with a court date myself. How do people get to take multiple full days off in a row?

    I hate Bush and spiritually agree with most of the protestors. But the whining and moaning is enough already. If you don’t want people calling you spoiled babies–black, white, yellow, tan, whatever–then stop crying like a bunch of spoiled brats.

  13. Mike says:

    Dazzle, there’s a good reason why all the major protests have been scheduled for weekends or for before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. You really think the 500,000 who marched on Sunday are all unemployed? Most people in jail with me had jobs, and most of the people from out of town were on vacation from their jobs. Do you think it’s unreasonable for people who care deeply about the current regime to take a week’s vacation and come to New York? I don’t. As for their race, how is that relevant? And somehow people who hitch rides to New York and eat free Food-not-Bombs at a church don’t exactly sound like millionaires.

  14. Dazzle2112 says:

    “And somehow people who hitch rides to New York and eat free Food-not-Bombs at a church don’t exactly sound like millionaires.”

    Mike, you and I both know that many activists, gutter-punks and others come from priveledge backgrounds and are simply affecting the “Hey, I’m poor…” look/mentality as a form of rebellion on their own. Suburban punks anyone? You can’t be that naive.

    C’mon, and come clean and face the facts. Just because someone chooses to feign a poor existence does not mean they themselves are actually poor. And the majority of activists I have met do come from privledged background no matter how ratty their clothes looks or how much they affect a poor pose, they are not really poor.

    I never said that these people are millionaires. But that does not mean that if push came to shove most of them have families and funding behind them that most average people don’t have.

  15. JK says:

    Dear Dazzle: do only the ‘down and out’ count? Because I’m white, middle class, that makes me a phony? Hell, I probably benefitted from the Bush tax cuts! I’m not ‘pretending’ to be anything that I’m not. I just want the Bush regime ended. Period. So I rode on Friday (on a designer Trek bike!! eww!). I marched on Sunday. I have a job, so I can’t attend the protests during the day. What makes you so righteous?

    The mindblowing aspect of all these protests is the unbelievable cross section of people that are participating. There is no pretense here, only people who care and want to see change.

    And as someone mentioned upthread, I also feel more threatened that protected. All of a sudden riding my bike to work (like I do everyday) is feeling subversive.

  16. Dazzle2112 says:

    Judith K., sorry to say but it’s not simply your voice. But the fact that the vast majority of protestors out there are simply a bunch of yuppie puppies.

    You don’t feel protected? Sorry, but I do. I’ve known anarchists for years and know they get excited when events like this happen. Because they simply want to “mix things” up like a bunch of aimless thugs.

    They don’t speak for me. And they don’t speak for you. But as a group, the collective whining and bellyaching is hillarious and tedious.

    The sad thing is that I am on the same side as you. I agree with the spirit of the protestors, but think the methods are quite pathetic and actually play into the hands of the image of protestors being raving loons.

    There are only two activists in the past century who have affected real change. Ghandi. And Martin Luther King, Jr. They did not resort to thug tactics, but they were strong and stood or what they believed in. And they didn’t act shocked when faced with opposition.

    In contrast a bunch of whining Critical Mass riders gets arrested and what do they do? Instead of saying “Hey we got arrested, but it was worth it…” what do they do? Bitch, moan and cry like babies. And what’s the latest schtick? United for Peace and Justice protesting outside of Pier 57 and calling it “Guantanamo on the Hudson”.

    Could that be any more arrogant? If you’re in town to fight the powers that be, then fight them and stop acting like petulant brats.

  17. JK says:

    To each his own. But silence is no longer an option.

    I’m not whining or bitching. I watched the ‘wall’ of netting go up without warning. And who were all those motorcycle riders who suddenly appeared on the block with their hot engines running? In the overall spirit of things, if they had let the bikers continue to ride thru, it would have been end of story. The police chose this battle, and you have to wonder why. I accept the consequences of my actions, but bear in mind, the consequences in this case may be extreme. And, I live in this town.

  18. Michelle says:

    I’m with you JK. The police went nuts. There are probably all sorts of elements we won’t understand until later – like the motivation to scoop up tons of cyclists with out warning. I’m not a normal protester, but support Critical Mass and felt like this was a good way to show the GOP they are not welcome in our town. I think it’s fair that the cyclists are pissed off they got arrested and they have not received their bikes back (what a mess!). The majority of these folks are just downtown liberals who, like me, are furious NYC is hosting the convention when we all hate the regime. Let’s not even talk about how much it will cost all of us in city tax dollars.

  19. Pissed off says:

    So I am a photojournalist living in NYC. I have covered a lot of protests over the years and I have never seen the cops so vicious as they have been in the past few days. The big Sunday march was pretty chill, probably because 200,000 people rioting as a result of over zealous cops was something the higher brass considered. Last night on Madison around 24th st about 75 cops rushed a restaruant that was being harrased by some protester. Supposedly there were repubs dining inside…By the time the cops arrived the protester had split and only us media folks were left. So what do the cops do when the show up to late to push around protesters? They push us CREDENTIALED media professionals around. They pushed us down the sidewalk for 2 blocks with their night sticks. They screamed at us and told us they were going to arrest us because we were interfereing with government business. They grabbed at our cameras, they were basically trying their best to get one of us to snap and take a swing, or push back. Believe me, one wrong move from us and they would have stomped us, then taken us off to the tombs.

    After the pushed us for 2 blocks, they high fived each other and laughed at us.

    Then they grabbed some poor kids who were just standing there watching the spectacle, and arrested them.

    They reminded me of wild dogs.

    Nice work NYPD.

  20. Dazzle2112 says:

    “I accept the consequences of my actions, but bear in mind, the consequences in this case may be extreme.”

    Unfortunately, you’re not taking responsibility for any actions. People nowadays seem to not be willing to take responsibility for anything. And to see this stuff happen in a conscious effort to engage in social disobedience is pathetic. Everyone knows that certain streets were “red zones” and anyhing could–and would–go there as far as arrests go. Feigning ignorance now is simply no way of getting people to sympathize.

    All things considered, calling Pier 57 “Guantanamo on the Hudson” is simply bullshit. And exageration to the extreme. Much in the same way that United for Peace and Justice claimed 500,000 marched on Sunday when other sources confirm 100,000-150,000.

    You’re not going to win any sympathy by not taking responsibility, exaggerating the “trauma” of arrest and generally whining like babies.

    Like I said, I had great sympathy for the Critical Mass arrests and thought they were wrong when it first happened. But as time went on guess what? Facts came to light and people started whining and whing and whing. Heck, this blog post… Whining, bitching and moaning.

    You do 1960s activists a disservice by acting this way. And you actually will push people away from your cause by not having a spine and acting like an adult.

    Oh, Pissedoff you’re a “photojournalist” so you should know that Police in a situation like that will do what it takes to defend the situation. And let’s be honest, photojournalists are vultures. People who do nothing but document the acts of others. Maybe it was not ideal, but any real journalist will know that things like that happen. And DEAL WITH IT! Not whine.

    When all is said and done, let’s get ready for the RNC to leave and for bloggers to do whatever they do when not whining about not being treated “well”.

  21. chuckybrown says:

    The three people I know who went to protest are neither wealthy nor unemployed. One is a web designer – makes pretty decent dough, but doesn’t come from anything approximating a wealthy family, and the other two were recent grad-school alums who work in publishing. The two of them probably make 50 a year combined. It’s a small sample, I know, but it probably carries more weight than unscientific, retarded conclusions like “the vast majority are spoiled rich kids.” Oh, you took a survey, dipcock? What percentage constitutes a vast majority? I can’t even believe I’m wasting my time responding to these dismissive, inaccurate portrayals of a half-million people. Jesus. And here we have more broad-brush characterizations – “photojournalists are vultures.” It reminds me of a photojournalist I read about who shot a deeply saddening photo of a vulture standing near a starving African child, waiting for it to die so it could grub down. He put himself in harm’s way in Africa and elsewhere countless times to show the world these images, and bore the nightmares of the things he saw — that is, until he eventually took his life. Yeah, sounds like a real scumbag. By the way, Dazzle, I know what LaGuardia looks like from inside the bus to Rikers – do YOU? Because it sounds like you can hann’le those arrests like a real player!

    Little shit-talker.


  22. Michelle says:

    C’mon, no name calling – but it’s interesting to read the passion felt regarding protesting. The majority of people out on the streets voicing their opinions have a right to do so – but none of them deserve to be mistreated by the police. I think we can all agree on that. Sure there are a few wild cards, but the 1,800 arrests since Friday night have been out of line. It was preemptive and many peaceful demonstrators were rounded up and hauled off to jail for nothing. The mayor’s office welcomed peaceful protesters and then threw a bunch of them in the slammer. Mr. Bloomberg has a bit of explaining to do… I think we should all hold him accountable, the buck stops at his office.

Comments are closed.