Youths defy police repression in battle of NYC

By Julie Fry
New York

Hundreds of thousands of people participated in demonstrations against the Republican National Convention in New York City. While the demonstration on Aug. 29, with over 500,000 people, was by far the largest event of the week, there were dozens of actions throughout the convention that brought out thousands of people as well.

Many of the actions were organized and led by youths, especially the direct street actions. Some of these actions were organized well in advance. Others were spontaneous. But the result was a clear, mass rejection of the repressive and brutal program of the Bush administration. The New York Police Department and the Bush administration met this sentiment with even more brutality and repression during the week.

Instead of resigning themselves to the steel pens and designated protest areas set up by the police to ensure that demonstrators would have no contact with the convention or its delegates, young activists were creative and determined to let the Bush administration know that they were there and ready to fight back.

Starting on Aug. 27, the Friday before the opening of the convention, when thousands of bicyclists clogged the streets of Manhattan for several hours and rode past Madison Square Garden, demonstrators found ways to reach the convention that the cops had tried so hard to keep them away from.

Activists from Fight Imperialism-Stand Together (FIST) participated in many of these actions alongside thousands of other young militants. They witnessed and experienced the brutal police response.

Over 1,800 people were arrested during the convention. As FIST member Peter Gilbert described it, "Anyone under 30 was targeted by the police. I think the banner we were carrying that said 'Stop the War on Youth From Here to Najaf' was very timely because there was definitely an all-out war on youth in New York last week."

Gilbert reported that, while waiting in line during the week at the courthouse to get information about a friend who had been, he met parents whose 18- and 19-year-old children had been arrested on their way home from work or while out riding bicycles.

Heavy-handed cops

The police responded with heavy repression to even the smallest and most peaceful actions. On Aug. 31, the day on which the greatest number of arrests occurred, FIST members went to the steps of the New York Public Library to assemble with other youths who wanted to march to Madison Square Garden.

Two participants tried to prop up a banner on a statue near the steps as they waited for others to arrive. Cops surrounded and arrested them immediately. Minutes later, dozens of police swarmed the stairs and started making arrests.

SNAFU organizer Dustin Langley was thrown to the ground and handcuffed by police after trying to take pictures of another arrest. The SNAFU organization supports GI resisters.

Police then chased those protesters at the library off the steps and down the street. The cops used a mesh net to trap fleeing protesters. Several bystanders were caught in the net and arrested as well.

Later that night FIST members were in Herald Square, where a group of youths of color from the Still We Rise Coalition led a group of protesters for at least an hour. They chanted and booed Republican delegates who passed by their corner. The demonstration was absolutely peaceful and disciplined the entire time--even when a police provocateur was sent into the crowd to try to start a fight.

Still, the police decided to attack the demonstration, sending hundreds of people fleeing for their safety into oncoming traffic. Many caught by the police were beaten and brutalized. Gilbert reported being cornered by the police at one point, and then managing to escape only because the police turned away from him in order to join in beating another activist. Events like this occurred in Union Square and other parts of the city that night.

The brutality did not end with the arrests. Activists were held for two or three days at a time in filthy conditions. New York law requires the police to give arrestees a probable cause hearing within 24 hours of an arrest. A state judge at one point ordered the police to immediately release about 500 people who had been held for days without any hearing.

The NYPD and the city ignored the court's order, even after being held in contempt by the judge. It was clear that the police were trying to keep activists off the streets until after the demonstrations were over.

Repression fuels resistance

This police strategy failed to stop the protests. Imani Henry, a Workers World Party member who participated along with FIST members in the direct actions, said: "When you arrest a thousand people one day, and then the next day thousands more people show up at demonstrations, that shows that the strategy of preemptive detention does not work."

Indeed, despite the attempts by the NYPD to terrorize youths throughout the week, young activists continued to participate in and lead the demonstrations. At the ANSWER protest Sept. 2 until 10 p.m. when Bush began to speak, and even later when another group marched up to Madison Square Garden from Union Square, young people refused to give in.

Who was the NYPD protecting last week? Certainly not the vast majority of New Yorkers, who stated in poll after poll before the convention that they supported the demonstrators. This support came despite a massive media campaign to demonize demonstrators, especially young activists, before and during the convention.

When hundreds of cyclists were rounded up and arrested on Aug. 27 in the East Village, people came out from bars and restaurants in the neighborhood to boo the cops and cheer on the cyclists. During the many marches that took place all over the city during the week, residents leaned out of their windows or stood on their front stoops waving and cheering on the demonstrators.

Several times pedestrians stopped FIST members carrying placards or banners around the city in between demonstrations to wish them luck or tell them to "Give 'em hell."

Despite all the police and corporate media lies about activists' threats against the city, most New Yorkers knew it was the convention and the Bush administration that pose a real threat to their well being. New Yorkers, like people in many other cities, have been deeply affected by job losses and by the loss of billions of dollars for social programs that is now being used in the brutal occupation of Iraq.

That the Bush administration came to New York to exploit the events of 9/11 for its political gain made the presence of the convention all the more insulting to the people of New York.

So why did the police spend tens of millions of dollars on security and arrest hundreds of people last week? To protect the bankers and the bosses whose interests they really serve.

Having hundreds of thousands of people in the streets ready to shut down a convention destroys the illusion perpetuated by both ruling parties that they actually represent the interests of the vast majority of people in this country.

The youths who battled in the streets all week, despite the demonization by the media and despite the brutality of the police, were trying to bring a little bit of truth to the parade of lies and distortions that characterized both the Republican and the Democratic conventions. They should be commended for their boldness and bravery.


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