Sunday, September 19, 2004

On to Nicaragua 

What horrors lie in store if the President wins a second term in November? As Robert Reich put it, "the constraint of a re-election contest will be gone. Knowing that voters can no longer turn them out, and this will be their last shot at remaking America, the radical conservatives will be unleashed." Which means that the "war on terror" will certainly expand into Iran, and probably other countries as well; some form of military draft will surely be reinstituted. Domestically, taxes on wealth will be largely abolished, "safety-net" programs slashed, environmental regulations gutted, Social Security privatized. Half of the population (and probably more) will be outraged by these developments, but what are they to do? As we have suggested before, the actions of the New York police during the Republican National Convention offer us some indication of the treatment dissenters should expect under a second Bush administration:
One late August evening, Alexander Pincus pedaled his bicycle to the Second Avenue Deli to buy matzo ball soup, a pastrami-on-rye and potato latkes for his sweetheart, who was sick with a cold.

He would not return for 28 hours. As Pincus and a friend left the deli, they inadvertently walked into a police blockade and sweep of bicycle-riding protesters two days before the Republican National Convention began. "I asked an officer how I could get home," Pincus recalled. "He said, 'Follow me,' and we went a few feet and cops grabbed us. They handcuffed us and made us kneel for an hour."

Police carted Pincus to a holding cell topped with razor wire and held him for 25 hours without access to a lawyer. The floor was a soup of oil and soot, he said, and the cell had so few portable toilets that some people relieved themselves in the corner. Pincus said a shoulder was dislocated as police pulled back his arms to handcuff him. "Cops kept saying to us, 'This is what you get for protesting,' " said Pincus, whose account of his arrest is supported in part by deli workers and a time-stamped food receipt . . . .

Most of those arrested were held for more than two days without being arraigned, which a state Supreme Court judge ruled was a violation of legal guidelines. Defense attorneys predict a flood of civil lawsuits once protesters have settled the misdemeanor charges lodged against them.

"The overriding problem during the convention was the indiscriminate arrests . . . of people who did nothing wrong," Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said at a City Council hearing last week. "They were arrested because they were . . . participating in a lawful demonstration" . . . .

A video provided by the New York Civil Liberties Union shows police commanders laying out the ground rules: As long as protesters did not block traffic, they would not get arrested during the walk north. (No permit is required for a march on a sidewalk as long as protesters leave space for other pedestrians to pass.) Within a block or two, however, the video shows marchers lined up on the sidewalk, far from an intersection, as a police officer announces on a bullhorn: "You're under arrest."

About the same time Tuesday, several other groups of protesters started walking two abreast from Union Square, the city's historic protest soapbox, to Madison Square Garden. However, several demonstrators say -- and photographs show -- that police soon stopped them, asked them to raise their hands and arrested them.

Throughout the week, police also picked up dozens of people who appeared to have nothing to do with demonstrations, the New York Civil Liberties Union said. Among those swept up by police were several newspaper reporters, two women shopping at the Gap, a feeder company executive out for dinner with a friend, and Wendy Stefanelli, a costume designer with the TV show "Sex and the City," who was walking to get a drink with a friend . . . .

"Too many New Yorkers were willing to look away," said Norman Siegal, a civil liberties lawyer who is representing Pincus. "We don't lose our rights overnight with a big bang; we lose them incrementally over time."
What would you think if the president signed a series of executive orders providing for the imposition of martial law, the establishment of internment camps, and the suspension of the Constitution -- all this in the event of "violent and widespread internal dissent or national opposition against a U.S. military invasion abroad"? Would you be scandalized? Would you write your representatives in Congress and beg them to stop such a plan? Would you take to the streets in protest?

You'd be twenty years too late.

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