Thursday, February 17, 2005

Portrait of the blogger as a young left-wing journalist

Going through my father's papers last week, I found this "eyewitness account" of the May, 1992 demonstrations in New York City, following the Rodney King verdict, which I sent home to the local peace and justice coalition newsletter in the heartland:

9:00 p.m., Saturday, May 2, New York City. I am sitting in a court room in Central Booking, also known as "The Tombs," awaiting the arraignment of my friend Rebecca on charges of disorderly conduct. She was arrested last night during the demonstrations sparked by the Rodney King decision, not for any violent act, but for peaceful protest.

The demonstrations yesterday began in Times Square at a rally organized by the Movement for a People's Assembly, an organization that is calling for the establishment of an independent assembly to represent the interests of minorities and the poor in New York. The multiracial crowd, composed of blacks, whites, Latinos and Asians, showed an impressive amount of interracial unity, with none of the anti-white or anti-Asian violence that the news media has capitalized on in Los Angeles.

Speakers, including Williams Kunstler, the radical lawyer who represented the Chicago 7 before the Supreme Court, called for greater economic equality and community control of the racist, irresponsible and violent law enforcement system. The demonstrators then began marching south along 8th Avenue and entered Madison Square Garden. Two windows were smashed there by overexcited demonstrators, but then, as later, violent members of the crowd were more or less restrained by more peaceable demonstrators.

As the march continued south, swung east through Washington Square Park and began heading north towards Tompkins Square Park, they encountered increasingly frequent attempts by the police to break up the march and became increasingly agitated as they were forced again and again to push through police lines. As the demonstrators marched through Washington Square Park and the East Village, a few members began throwing bottles or harassing merchants, but the majority of the demonstrators did their best the restrain such behavior, often forming a wall with their bodies outside threatened stores or restaurants or running ahead of the crowd to warn owners to close their doors and security gates. Overall, the demonstrators showed a remarkable amount of cohesion, unity and self-control.

Such restrain was not, unfortunately, displayed by the NYPD. Many demonstrators were hauled off, beaten up and tossed into paddy wagons, as were many people who had merely walked into the street to see what was going on. Rebecca was arrested as she stood on the sidewalk (she had gotten off the street as the police had requested) holding a sign reading "Los Angeles Is Everywhere," exercising her constitutional rights to free speech.

After she was arrested, nearly demonstrators began chanting "Let her go!" and one man threw a bottle at the police. In response, some 40 or 50 policemen charged the crowd, hitting and beating people indiscriminately. What is most disturbing, though, is that despite the large number of reporters on the scene, not a word of this reached the public through the news media — the New York Times covered this part of the march with the single sentence, "Police dispersed the demonstrators at 1st Avenue and St. Mark's Place."

Rebecca was arraigned and released on personal recognizance at 11:30 Saturday night, with a trial date pending. Her police report contains ridiculously inflated charges of jumping on police cars, yelling incendiary socialist and anarchist slogans, and leading masses of rioters against police barricades, none of which are even remotely true.

Her description of the New York jail system is reminiscent of prison conditions in the early nineteenth century; prisoners who have not even been arraigned yet, let alone proven guilty, are treated like animals. Rebecca was denied a phone call until 15 hours after her arrest, taunted by male police officers, and was told repeatedly that they planned to send her to Riker's Island (a prison for convicted criminals) if she was not arraigned soon.

In a New York jail there is no such thing as civil rights, and even basic human rights such as clean food and water are denied. It is no wonder that most of the minority and working-class residents of America's cities have lost faith in the institutions of the American state.

The likely re-elected of George Bush, a president who has shown no interest in combating the evils of racism and poverty and whose solution to most problems involves the armed forces, will only lead to more violence and will slowly turn America's cities into occupied zones and police states.

No comments: