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Friday, August 27, 2004

NYC: 21 Arrests and Counting 

The RNC doesn't even start for a couple of days yet, but the NYPD has already arrested almost two dozen protesters -- tripling the arrest figures for the entire Democratic convention. One set of demonstrators has already played the dreaded nudity card:
In one event yesterday, several members of Act Up blocked traffic, naked, on Eighth Avenue in front of Madison Square Garden, the convention site, to protest the Bush administration's record on AIDS. That resulted in 11 arrests on misdemeanor charges, according to police officials.

In a second, five members of a group called the No Police State Coalition were arrested at Union Square and 14th Street after they continued to use a bullhorn after the police warned them that they could not.

In the third event, members of a group called Operation Sibyl rappelled down the front of the Plaza Hotel to drape its facade with a giant anti-Bush banner. A police officer responding to the scene was injured on the roof of the hotel, and four of the people arrested were charged with felony assault, an indication that the police plan to deal harshly with certain protesters. According to the police, the officer received 38 stitches for injuries to his leg.

A lawyer for the group said that the assault charge was inappropriate because the officer was injured falling through a skylight that one of the protesters had warned him was cracked.

"It is really a bogus charge, probably to try to scare off future demonstrators," said Gerald B. Lefcourt, adding that he had been defending protesters since the Vietnam era and had never seen an assault charge applied in a similar situation. "Assault requires an intent to cause injury and taking steps to cause that injury," he said.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in talking more generally about anarchists yesterday, said, "If somebody wants to break the law, they're going to find that the N.Y.P.D. is going to enforce the law." "They're going to be arrested, and Bob Morgenthau, our district attorney, is going to prosecute them and take it very seriously," he said. "In this day and age, when we have to worry about terrorists, I think the tolerance for throwing things or trying to hurt somebody else - even if they think it's a prank - it's no longer a prank in this day and age."
Elsewhere, Tom Hayden (via Cursor) takes issue with the conventional wisdom (put forth by such worthies as Norman Mailer, King of Zembla, et al) that loud and visible protests at the RNC will in all likelihood redound to Bush's benefit. His argument is not, to our mind, altogether persuasive, but he makes one discomfitingly valid point about scapegoating:
A few weeks before [the 1968] election, Humphrey, trailing badly, gave a speech declaring his independence from Lyndon Johnson and proposing peace talks in Paris. Immediately, Humphrey's poll numbers started to climb vertically. But Richard Nixon worked frantically behind the scenes to dissuade South Vietnama's Nguyen Van Thieu from joining the Paris talks before the election. Nixon succeeded, and Humphrey lost by a handful of votes.

There is no objective certainty, but Humphrey's momentum could have succeeded if his break from Johnson had come earlier. Other factors that could have determined the outcome are never mentioned at all, for example, if George Wallace had taken one more percentage point from Nixon.

The outcome instead was blamed on "Chicago '68," on the young people who passionately stood up against the war and the police tactics, were gassed, bloodied, arrested, and falsely accused of communist conspiracies.

Why? Because scapegoating functions to shift blame from the powerful to the powerless, from the comfortable to the marginal. As far as I know, no national Democratic leader – nor the party – has ever taken responsibility for what happened in that year when the party lost its soul and direction. Instead, "Chicago '68" has become a metaphoric lesson about the dark side of protest, not that of power . . . .

Another scenario is plausible, that loud protests at the convention will damage Bush's already-tarnished claim to be a uniter, not a divider. Voters are likely to reject a president who, having needlessly brought death and disorder to the U.S. standing in the world, would needlessly provoke disorders at home in a second term . . . .

Kerry is taking an incredible gamble that every single progressive, and every undecided vote tormented about Iraq, will vote for Kerry instead of Nader or not at all. Bush may neutralize Kerry in the debates by asking the tough question: What would he do differently in Iraq now? What will Kerry say to the wavering voter? Will he find himself in Humphrey's situation, offering too little, too late?

At this point, Bush's approval ratings are low, and Kerry's campaign is not making the progress it might. Kerry still has a good shot of winning, but clearly there still are many ways for the Democrats to lose. Blaming the peace protestors is not one of them.

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