Wednesday, September 01, 2004

A31 RNC- a Partial Report 

The A31 actions in Manhattan yesterday led to over 800 arrests, as the NYPD executed agressive immobilization & detention tricks. The Fox Shut-Up-athon at 4pm closed the entrance/exit of Fox News headquarters for a few hours. Middle-aged hippie guys with oversized O'Reilly & Hannity masks donned schoolgirl cheerleader uniforms, shaking their pompoms in the intersection. Code Pink & the Rainbow Contingent converged on the demonstration, & the riot police quickly fenced in the protesters & shut down the sidewalks. There were some arrests, including a woman draped in an American flag. She attached herself to the streetlight with her eyes & mouth taped. "Freedom of Speech" was written across the tape. There were numerous random bag searches. Demonstrators repeatedly announced "I do not consent to this search." It repeatedly made no difference to the police. As arrestees were led away, the Infernal Brigade Marching Band arrived to soundtrack the unrest with their crusty brand of dirty brass.

At 6pm the crowd moved to the front of the 42nd St. Library. By the time I got there, a banner-drop had been attempted. A line of shielded & helmeted officers had prevented the assembly of demonstrators from gathering on the steps. They also lined the first lane of 5th Ave. in an attempt to pen in the anti-Bush crowd. They brought out what looked like net cannons- long tubes with spools of heavy plastic netting. The police also patrolled the area with submachine guns. Those caught on the sidewalk headed around the corner as scuffles with the police began to escalate. The riot squad completely sealed the block. Some demonstrators headed down into the subway. The police pursued them & broke their line, allowing a handful of us to get to the other side of the barricade. As I crossed the street, police on scooters raced the perimeter of the crowd with the netting. It was reported they were beaten & arrested. It was also reported that demonstrators arriving on the subway were thrown to the ground & detained.

Those who weren't fenced in converged on Herald Square, where Chris Matthews of MSNBC's "Hardball" was conducting interviews with pundits. The crowd arrived & interrupted the interviews with chants of "Four More Months" & ""Tell the Truth". The riot police arrived in force, shutting down the streets for blocks. They seemed panicked that the action had gotten so close to Madison Square Garden. The entire crowd was hemmed in, including many New Yorkers on their way home from work. The police made many demands to disperse, without giving anyone the ability to leave.

As the demonstrators made headway into Broadway, many laid down before Republican delegate buses trying to drive to MSG. The police started randomly arresting people en masse on the periphery of the crowd in an effort to thin the protest. Many who escaped the pens individually & tried to walk way were tackled in the street & handcuffed. (On the edges of the "open" streets, groups of ten or so plainclothes police cruised the area on stylish un-police-like motorcycles, cornering & arresting stray protesters.) The violence escalated further when the busloads of Republicans were forced to get off the coaches & walk to MSG. The police cleared the path with batons & shields, as the delegates were scorned by the crowd. A few delegates seemed terrified & shaken by the anti-Bush outrage of the demonstrators. They were led down the block to the Garden by a literal army of NYPD. Shortly after, Trucks arrived with massive concrete barriers, which forged a kind of rectangular shape. Dump trucks arrived soon after, filling the sidewalk inside the barrier with sand. Arrests on Broadway & 5th Avenue continued.

Another die-in began on Broadway, & a policeman opened the pen for approximately 50 more riot police to enter the area. He never fastened the fence again, & as the attention turned to the new wave of arrests, I slipped out & walked on 33rd(?), away from the action. I soon realized that the end of the street was sealed, & that I would likely be arrested once I reached the end of the street. As I shuffled my feet toward the end of the block, LL Cool J left the back entrance of a hotel right in front of me! There were maybe five young girls who came out the doorway with him seeking his autograph, as he was flanked by an entourage. His bodyguards led the way to the corner- & with my button-down shirt, shoulder bag & best A&R face, I walked through the barricade as the police held the gate for us.

Philadelphia never seemed so peaceful as when I arrived early this morning. No helicopters. No pens. And if I don't see a policeman in riot gear for a while, I'll be alright. I'm taking comfort in the gentle familiarity of the everyday grind. I return refreshed with a new commitment- to buy the next Uncle L cd the day it comes out. Thank you!

Frank Sherlock

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