Volume 17 • Issue 15 | SEPTEMBER 3 - 10, 2004


Police’s convention actions must be reviewed

As we go to press, we knock on wood and get ready to breathe a sigh of relief as the Republican convention closes without a catastrophe. The New York Police Dept. deserves a good deal of credit for keeping the city safe and secure during this week when they and we were on high alert.

That is their first priority and they succeeded. However the number of reports of police misconduct for a few of the protests is disturbingly high and a full public review should be conducted. In some cases, there were too many arbitrary arrests and the conditions at the temporary detention center at Pier 57 also raises important concerns that need to be answered.

Most of the protests surrounding the convention were peaceful. The police in most instances helped encourage a calm situation, showed restraint and practiced sound methods of crowd control.

United for Peace and Justice also deserves a lot of praise for leading the largest march on Aug. 29 — a peace march indeed, drawing by their estimates half a million people.

Police allowed the march to flow freely from Chelsea to Union Sq., where U.F.P.J. used a small soundstage and marshals to disperse the crowd. There was one incident where a papier-mache dragon was burned by Madison Sq. Garden and the dragon group then scuffled with police, but it can’t be blamed on U.F.P.J. that a few violent activists chose to march and behave inappropriately. The trashing of Third Ave. near McSorley’s before a party there with G.O.P. VIP’s Governor Pataki and Dennis Hastert was, likewise, another act where a vocal protest would have been wiser and safer.

As we report in this issue, many photographers covering the most raucous of the protests, the A31 group’s disobedience day on Aug. 31, were roughed up by police as they were trying to do their jobs. Seven of them told us what happened to them. These are all experienced photographers who know the streets of the city and have the common sense to wear N.Y.P.D. credentials. Some of them work for us regularly – but that’s not what raises our ire. Nor is this some sort of media, navel-gazing story.

The right of the press to document what government – particularly what law enforcement does is fundamental to democracy and should be cherished by all Americans. Inside the Garden this week, there was a lot of talk about bringing freedom to the Islamic world – a worthy goal indeed – but America can’t have the moral authority to pressure for democracy abroad if it lets its fundamental freedoms slip away at home.

There was a lot of chaos on the streets Tuesday night and sometimes journalists do need to be physically moved in emergency situations. But our experienced sources tell us they were roughed up in some instances after police had restored order.

No doubt some photographers got too close and some so-called anarchists stepped over the line and instigated cops. We do expect a lot from police officers – that’s part of the price for getting to carry a gun and wear a badge.

We are thankful the police kept us safe this week. That’s what the N.Y.P.D. does. Now we have to make sure they work to keep democracy safe too.

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