Web Only / Act Locally » September 3, 2004
On the Streets of New York: Security
At times, New York looked like a totalitarian dystopia as heavily armed soldiers and cops blocked streets, declared frozen zones, and corralled demonstrators, legal observers, journalists, and bystanders alike with metal barricades and orange netting. Holding a P-90 submachine gun, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer noted proudly that it was the same weapon used in the film Stargate.
Federal state, and city authorities using undercover operatives, cell phones for instant relay and ID, video equipment, hidden cameras—and overhead, a rented blimp–kept the city under constant surveillance. One police officer told NYCLU Executive Director Donna Leiberman, “We’re covering everything.” Leiberman charged that police were violating the rights of peaceful law abiding demonstrators by “maintaining dossiers for future reference.”
Among the new police tactics was the scooter squad. These roving bands of plain-clothes cops on motor scooters zoomed into demonstrations, including one against Starbucks’ labor conditions. Asked why the two union organizers on the march were picked out for arrest, one undercover cop said, “I think they might have kicked a window or something.”
The use of undercover police for such actions may have backfired at the incident on Monday night when a demonstrator apparently beat a cop.
Daily News photographer Todd Maisel witnessed the scene at the end of the unpermitted “Still We Rise” demonstration. After police suddenly divided a cohesive group of marchers with metal barricades, Maisel said, police called for backup and the scooter squad suddenly appeared and drove into the crowd. “The guy who got beaten up was plain clothes and didn’t look like a cop,” said Maisel. When uniformed police reinforcements arrived, they seemed confused, the photographer said, and “took a woman scooter cop down. …They grabbed her, brought her to the ground and had her in handcuffs. She was screaming ‘What the fuck, I am a cop.’ The uniformed officers responded `How the hell are we supposed to know?’” Maisel concluded that the police botched the operation. The violence “didn’t have to happen. There are going to be lessons learned,” he said.
Terry J. Allen
Terry J. Allen, an In These Times senior editor, has written the magazine's monthly investigative health and science column since 2006.