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© 2004 The Beast


New York City officials continue to stonewall groups representing more than 300,000 demonstrators, prompting a lawsuit claiming that the city is violating civil rights guarantees.

The two largest groups, United for Peace & Justice and a joint group representing the ANSWER coalition and the National Council of Arab Americans, have each been denied requests to assemble in Central Park during the week of the Republican National Convention, Aug. 30-Sept. 2. ANSWER and the National Council of Arab Americans planned to rally Saturday, Aug. 28, while United for Peace & Justice had planned Aug. 29 for their rally.

United for Peace & Justice sought a permit for 250,000, but was denied by the city’s parks department on the dubious grounds that so many people would ruin the grass.

Meanwhile, ANSWER and the National Council of Arab Americans has filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan against the parks department, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the police department over the denial of its application.

According to the complaint, the rally was timed to coincide with the 41st Anniversary of the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, “…and at the beginning of the Republican National Convention to…stand in support of civil rights and civil liberties for all the people in the United States.” The complaint goes on to note that the rally would constitute “an assembly of the most targeted and vulnerable communities – Arabs, Arab-Americans, and Muslims.”

Explaining its denial, the city noted that it cannot “accommodate an event of that nature,” but the plaintiffs point out that only 75,000 are expected to participate, whereas the park “in 1997 held 250,000 for a Garth Brooks concert.”

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a lawyer for the Partnership for Civil Justice and the National Lawyers Guild, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the group, told the Associated Press that the rejection of the permit "appears to be very content-based discrimination," especially in regards to the Arab Americans.

At times like this, it’s important to remember what Dr. Hunter S. Thompson once said: “Civil rights aren’t just for Negroes, you know.” Or perhaps it’s what Santayana said about “Those who cannot remember the past…”

Indeed. History has a strange way of repeating itself just when most people are about to do something fun, like watch TV or go to the movies. And so it is again time to decide whether to shut up and get in line at the local Wal-Mart like a good German or to insist on the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which reads thus: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

For inspiration, remember this timeline of earlier civil rights troublemakers:

● In 1955, a black woman in Montgomery, Alabama, named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. She risked being beaten or lynched, but wound up arrested, sparking the civil rights movement. In the end, her trial led to the Supreme Court declaring segregation illegal on public buses.

● On Feb. 1, 1960, four black college students dared to sit at the whites-only lunch counter of a Woolworth in Greensboro, North Carolina. They risked certain arrest, a nearly certain beating, and the equally frightening prospect of eating something from the Woolworth menu.

● Forty years ago in Neshoba County, Mississippi, three civil rights activists were arrested by the local sheriff, delivered into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and then shot and killed. No one was ever prosecuted.

● During the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, protestors battled police in the streets daily. The results: 668 arrested; 111 demonstrators treated at hospitals, more than 1,000 treated at the scene; 192 police officers injured, 49 sought hospital treatment. An official inquiry later blamed police for most of the violence.

While some of these and many other protesters over the years have met with ugly consequences for their audacity, in the end, the violence of those they opposed was their undoing. Nobody wants to agree with people who will jail, beat, or even kill those who disagree. Exposing the evil and undemocratic nature of the enemies of civil rights is mission one in the image war against them, and the RNC is a prime opportunity to do so.

Fire hoses and CS Gas may not be en vogue anymore, but authorities have definitely gone on the offensive against protestors planning to attend the RNC in New York. An Aug. 16 story in the New York Times detailed an aggressive effort by the FBI. Agents have been urged to collect information in their communities about disruptions planned for the convention. According to civil rights groups, agents have interrogated at least 40-50 people nationwide about demonstration plans and potential violence.

All of this has been fueled by anarchist hysteria, the kind found in a July 11 New York Daily News story with the headline, “Fury at Anarchist Convention Threat.”

The story begins, “Fringe elements are hoping to spark major disruptions at the Republican National Convention with a series of sneaky tricks – including fooling bomb-sniffing dogs on trains bound for Penn Station.”

Nobody knows better than Buffalonians about the danger from anarchists. An anarchist shot President McKinley in the city during the Pan-American Exposition in 1901, after all. As a result, Buffalo was cursed with a moribund economy and sports teams that march to the brink of greatness before being agonizingly cut down.

Presumably, anarchists have gotten more sophisticated in the past 100 years. What are they up to now? “These hard-core groups are looking to take us on…” New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told the Daily News. “They have increased their level of sophistication and violence.”

Some of their tactics were detailed in a profile of Kelly that appeared on Metro.com. To wit: “Kelly and his department are well aware of the kinds of tactical weaponry protestors have used in recent years: marbles and bolts spread out on the ground for cops to slip on… Fishing line to trip horses and dogs… super-soakers filled with vinegar, gasoline, or urine.”

The coup de grace: “Particularly frightening in the current climate is the use of hoax devices – suitcases or backpacks or other items that look like bombs and are left at various locations around the city. Simply phoning in bomb threats is a commonly used variation of this.”

I know from personal experience that this is a pain. Less than two weeks ago my dinner plans were altered when I and other pedestrians were stopped by a police officer on a street near Times Square and made to turn around. He refused to explain why, and kept shouting, “The street is closed.”

I found another more voluble officer nearby standing just outside MTV’s TRL studio. He explained that some groups planning to protest at the Republican National Convention had been placing suspicious items around the city and phoning them in to police. “When we catch them, we’re going to charge them as if it were real,” he said.

The cops are serious: They have a $50 million budget for the convention and license to crack the skulls of any lawbreakers, which is exactly what the estimated 300,000 people will be if they rally in Central Park without a permit. Right now it looks like a showdown that can only be avoided through the courts: Civil Rights v. Fear and Power. The only problem is that Fear and Power pay their lawyers a lot more.

The only thing that’s going to turn back the tide of constitutional erosion in America is a sheer display of numbers. The more people who show up to yell at the RNC, the more resonant their message will be.

I’ll be covering the RNC protests for the BEAST. From what I hear, much of the staff will also be on hand, spending time and money they don’t really have. They feel a sense of duty, to at least do something to help change our nation’s direction besides yell at the TV [Damn right! –Ed.]. I know I speak for them when I say that I hope to see you there, too. If you don’t go, what will you tell your grandchildren when they ask, “where were you in the culture wars?”



 

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