NEW YORK — A day of organized protests at the Republican National Convention resulted in more than 1,000 arrests all over New York on Tuesday. As police sirens squealed through the evening twilight across Manhattan — with confrontations occurring from the Ground Zero site downtown to the New York Public Library on 42nd Street — many observers were left questioning what led to so many arrests, and how the arrested parties were chosen.
As had been openly discussed by activists for weeks before the convention, August 31 was earmarked as the day when licensed marches would give way to covert, non-violent direct actions. Yet their plans were so thoroughly publicized on the Internet that a Tuesday-morning edition of The New York Times printed a map correctly forecasting many of the locations where such events were going to take place. And, as members of the New York Police Department are perfectly capable of opening a daily newspaper, an overwhelming presence of officers was prepared at every site.
Despite the fact that most actions remained non-violent as advertised, and contrary to negotiations with protesters at numerous locations that may have allowed those actions to continue, the NYPD ended up using a strategy of arrests, rather than containment. Spokespeople for the NYPD did not return MTV News' calls for comment at press time.
Witnesses said that members of the War Resisters League, who claimed to have brokered an arrangement with the NYPD wherein they could march solemnly from Ground Zero up to Madison Square Garden without impeding traffic, were arrested the moment they crossed Church Street. Observers from the New York Civil Liberties Union called the NYPD's tactics "bait-and-switch." More than 200 people were arrested in the downtown exchange.
East of Union Square, a permit-less rally heading toward MSG was halted before it even had a chance to move a full block. Among the more than 50 people detained were members of a film crew making a documentary about the political process in the United States of America.
In one of the day's more heated clashes, at the library on 42nd Street, protesters who tried to hang anti-Bush banners on the lion statues that adorn the building's steps got into a struggle with police, resulting in over a dozen more arrests.
Why were these actions treated differently from others, such as Monday's mostly peaceful March for Our Lives down 2nd Avenue, which was also staged without a permit but was allowed to continue? Paul Browne of the NYPD's deputy commissioner's office was quoted in the Times as saying, "If they want to chant, that's fine, but if they take to the street, they'll get arrested."
Tuesday's tactical approach may have been influenced by one of the few violent confrontations to occur between protesters and police on Monday, when a motorcycle officer accompanying a march up 8th Avenue was accosted and pulled off his bike. An unidentified police official told the Times that the end-game strategy at each event was dictated by the commanding officer: "The commander can make a judgment — does it make sense for public safety to allow it to go forward rather than do battle?"
Still, many continued on with their expressions of political discontent. Dozens of members of the War Resisters League staged a "die-in" on Broadway on Tuesday evening, stopping traffic by lying down in the street, and being booked moments later. Unlike many activists, they knew that they would be arrested, and they were fine with that, feeling the whole scene made a statement.