Republican Convention 2004 : Protests Come Early, and So Do Arrests
28 août 2004 (New York Times)
By DIANE CARDWELL
The anarchists have not even had their day in the streets, but the protests surrounding the Republican National Convention have already kicked into high gear, with arrests at three events yesterday totaling at least 21, more than three times the number of arrests during the entire Democratic convention in Boston.
The events yesterday offered a preview of what delegates may expect when they actually arrive this weekend : spontaneous acts at high-profile locations meant to draw maximum attention.
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."
The banner displayed on the hotel had two arrows pointing in opposite directions, one bearing the word truth, the other the word Bush. The group enlisted consultants in shaping its message and its members have stressed that they are not part of a radical fringe, although they are hardly new to protest activities or arrest. They secretly planned the event for months, practicing by dangling from the ceiling of an unfinished loft in Brooklyn.
Members said their message was an attempt to sway undecided voters by dispelling what they called the lies and myths that have sustained the Bush presidency.
"They’re ordinary people," said Evan Thies, the group’s media coordinator and the spokesman for City Councilman David Yassky. "They were scared to death up there today."
Mr. Thies, who was later arrested and charged with criminal facilitation, said members of the group checked into a room at the Plaza on Saturday night. "They were planning on getting arrested," he said, "and they don’t know what their future is going to bring. These are people with careers, people with something to lose."
The four who participated in the draping, who have also been charged with several misdemeanors, were Terra Lawson-Remer, a graduate student at New York University studying for a law degree and a doctorate in law and society ; Cesar Maxit, an architect from Texas ; Rebecca Johnson, a seminary student from Oakland, Calif., who is studying to become a Christian minister ; and David Murphy, who runs his own business in the city.
In the demonstration outside the Garden, the 11 protesters were arrested after several of them stripped off their clothes and began chanting, "Bush, Stop AIDS, Drop the Debt" while blocking traffic. The demonstrators, members of Act Up, marched in a single file into the middle of a crosswalk on 33rd Street. They turned to face the traffic, and then shed their clothes to reveal the words "Stop AIDS, Drop the Debt" painted on their backs, a reference to the AIDS pandemic in African countries that are heavily in debt. Ten minutes later, the police swarmed the disrobed demonstrators and arrested them along with two others who were standing on top of a parked trailer with a banner.
The protest elicited stares and gasps from people who gathered around them. "Think of the children," two people cried out.
"I really think this is very disrespectful to New Yorkers because this is our town," said Gerard Schneyer, who works in the area. "If they want to do something like that they should go someplace else where they don’t disrupt the traffic. Besides no one is really paying attention right now, at least not until Sunday."
Eddy Ramírez and Judy Tong contributed reporting for this article.