New York City: Massive Protests Met with Police Brutality

Revolutionary Worker #1189, March 2, 2003, posted at

In the face of attempts by city and federal officials to stop a massive anti-war protest in New York City on February 15, more than 500,000 people took the streets.

Feeder marches from different parts of the city mushroomed, as news spread of the city's attempts to stop people from taking the streets. More than 60 feeder marches from around the city defied the authorities--as the enthusiastic crowds, determined to express their opposition to the U.S. plan for war on Iraq, flooded the avenues heading toward the United Nations. Groups of hundreds and thousands marched through barricades, through attacking horses and cops, to get to the rally site at 1st Avenue and 51st Street. Thousands maneuvered their way through posh department stores--in one door and out another--to outwit police blockades and avoid being corralled in pens designed to limit the movement of demonstrators.

Leading up to the protest, the permit to march was denied by city courts and also a panel of three Federal judges. They claimed there were not enough cops to handle any more than 10,000 people and claimed that the march posed a "security risk." An amicus brief filed by John Ashcroft's Justice Department supported the NY police in a gross denial of political rights in New York City--a clear attempt to prevent a massive show of opposition to the war.

Calling the police performance "disgraceful," New York Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote: "Looking down Third Avenue and Second Avenue, as the crowds came up to try to get to the rear of the great crowd on First Avenue, and then peering as far down First Avenue as you could see, the size of throngs caused you to tell yourself, 'maybe a million.' Whatever it was, out on the street it felt like a million, and it was glorious. A news photographer I know came along. 'I've been every place. I have to say a million.' Because of the Police Department's reprehensible pens, the crowd was separated so that there was not one clear picture of an enormous group that would cause politicians here to faint..."

With all that the authorities tried to do to sabotage the protest, hundreds of thousands marched in the city of Ground Zero of September 11th and they were met by many forms of police brutality. It was reported that a cop caught up with a man walking, hit him with a nightstick, causing the man to fall on the sidewalk. When other people came to the man's aid, they were hit with pepper spray. It was reported that people were corralled and penned in behind metal barricades, punched by the police, thrown to the ground and some were trampled by police horses. Police chained up arrested protesters outside in the freezing weather while they waited to process them. Police video cameras photographed the crowds. As of Tuesday, February 18, there were 30 complaints of police brutality and at least 311 reported arrests. An unknown number of protesters were hospitalized.

The Evidence

An RW correspondent attended a news conference in New York City called by Leslie Cagan of United for Peace & Justice and coordinator of February 15th rally. A video showed the brutality of the police. It showed protesters being thrown to the ground, horses trampling people, tear gas sprayed into protesters' faces, and police forcing people back with metal barricades.

At the news conference, Rebekah Wolf of the People's Law collective described accounts of horses being backed into tight crowds of people, horses being used to crush crowds against walls of buildings, horses riding over protesters sitting on the street and people being knocked down by horses and then trampled under foot. She reported police beatings and arrests of single protesters by as many as five cops. Debbie Hrbek of the National Lawyers Guild said legal observers saw protesters being held handcuffed, chain gang style in the cold for hours. People were held in buses and vans for as long as eight hours without food, bathroom facilities, access to prescription medicine, and medical attention for the injured. One person who had suffered lacerations, rubbed blood on the window of the police bus to let people standing outside know he needed help. There were serious injuries. One person has a serious spinal injury from a horse falling and rolling on them.

According to the lawyers at the news conference, protesters were denied access to attorneys. Legal workers were given no information about the condition and whereabouts of their clients for as much as eight hours after the arrests. Attorneys were themselves forced to wait outside Central Booking in pens in freezing temperatures for hours. They were waiting to see clients who had called them. When they protested this, they were told that the police were short staffed and overwhelmed by the huge numbers. The legal standard in NYC for the time between arrest and arraignment is 24 hours. In these arrests, it took as much as 48 hours for the protesters to get arraigned. While people were being held, they were interrogated by the police without legal representation. Protesters were asked about their political affiliations, i.e. "What group are you with?", "What is your group's connection to other groups?"

An activist in the Blue Triangle network who was arrested told the RW , "The marchers poured into the streets, it was an empowering feeling to take the streets. Of course, the police were not happy with that and came in on horseback and pushed protesters aside with the horses. As a few people stayed in the streets, I felt it important to join them and stay in the streets.... I followed the lead of one protester who called for calm. I stood in a line that was blocking traffic in the street. I remained standing in the street until they handcuffed and apprehended me. I talked to men who were bruised, had torn clothes. I sat with them in a paddy wagon. One man from Ecuador was hit on two sides of his head and right above the eyes and I saw that. Another 18-year-old man had his clothes ripped in many places. We were held for eight hours in paddy wagons. We got boisterous because we were denied bathroom privileges. Then they put us outside on a chain gang link [we were handcuffed together] for two hours in 15-degree temperatures. We had to hop around to stay warm. They finally gave us a citation at midnight. We are attempting to file charges against the NYPD for misconduct. The reason I stayed in the streets was twofold. First, I thought of the children dying in Iraq, which is a motivating factor for me to preserve a better world. My second motivation was because our civil liberties are being stripped away daily."

In the aftermath, across the city, anger at the police mixed with a kind of joyous determination, as hundreds of thousands--buoyed by the knowledge that people around the world had heard their voice--considered their next move against the warmakers.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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