RNC Showdown

Police Plans to Deny Political Rights in NYC

Revolutionary Worker #1235, April 4, 2004, posted at rwor.org

Powerful forces are getting ready for August 30 - September 2, when the leadership of the Republican Party will gather in New York City for the Republican National Convention. The Republicans picked New York for their meeting to coincide with the third anniversary of 9/11, hoping to fuse it with the re-nomination of George W. Bush. What they envision is an emotion-choked orgy of their imperial aims. But the Republicans will not be alone in New York. Many, many people oppose the agenda of the Bush regime and are disgusted and outraged at the idea of such a cynical spectacle. Forces far and wide are preparing to meet this convocation with determined resistance.

The stage is set for a major squaring off. Law enforcement is already in a tizzy of preparation; promising to do more than has yet been done for a massive protest. The Village Voice (quoting an NYPD spokesperson) said it will be "the highest level of security this city has ever seen." To put this into context, in the weeks after 9/11 New York City was the scene of virtual martial law. Given that, this is a pretty extreme statement.

NYPD Snaps into Action

The NYPD began its official plans for the Convention in June 2003. In one respect they are drawing on techniques and tactics formulated from earlier (Democratic) conventions held in New York--tactics that include everything from sharpshooters stationed on rooftops, counter-terrorism agents patrolling dressed as civilians, and bomb squads scoping out subway tunnels. But they are not planning a repeat of those earlier conventions. Those conventions drew thousands of protesters. No one anticipates such relatively modest numbers for RNC 2004.

Not In Our Name has put out a call for a million people to come out in New York to demonstrate during the RNC. United for Peace and Justice is seeking a permit that can accommodate hundreds of thousands of protesters. Many other forces are mobilizing, anti-RNC websites are giving daily updates on news of organizing, and the web is abuzz with sites "counting down" the days to the RNC.

The police are gearing up for a major clash and are planning accordingly. The New York Times in November ran an in-depth article about police preparations. The article drew heavily on information supplied by the police commissioner, Raymond Kelly.

Kelly apparently made himself available to publicize police plans this far in advance as a way of chilling the atmosphere and trying to set terms favorable for the police. In other words the publicity itself is part of the authority's preparation for clamping down on protests.

Kelly told the Times that they have created 30 committees within the department to prepare various aspects of security, and they are conducting weekly meetings specifically to plan for the convention. While some of this is geared toward the logistics of ushering politicians around and such, there is a sharp focus on street demonstrations.

According to the Times , "The police are monitoring the Internet and the organizing groups. They want to know what groups are coming to New York, who their leaders are and what their plans are long before anyone ever raises a billboard or turns on a bullhorn."

They are also planning mass arrests. The Times noted that among the subjects in the weekly meetings are "details as minute as whether law enforcement officials will have enough cameras and vans to process individuals who are arrested." Amplifying this, Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau testified in a March City Council hearing that "the Republican National Convention will bring significantly increased arrests in the weeks before and during the convention." He said the "NYPD anticipates that we could have up to 1,000 arrests a day, three times our normal volume."

Rolling Out the Red Squad

The NYPD's planning is made easier by the fact that the police were able to roll back restrictions on police spying under the justification of fighting the "War on Terrorism." Last spring a federal court gutted the Handschu Decision which had put certain legal limits on police surveillance of political opponents. Police immediately started spying openly and interrogating arrested demonstrators at anti-Iraq war protests. The police were so brazen that the judge overseeing the Handschu Decision criticized police, saying they "were in need of some discipline." ( NY Post, August 8, 2003).

Now, with the RNC approaching, the NYPD is ratcheting up their whole spy apparatus. Police commissioner Kelly said, "We're gathering information about plans that people may have to come here." They also are using their new freedom to openly videotape and photograph people, like they did at the March 20 antiwar demonstration.

Along with this, NYPD officials have visited Los Angeles and Philadelphia, sites of the 2000 Republican and Democratic conventions. Those conventions, it should be noted, were marked by police tactics ranging from undercover cops infiltrating protests by posing as "workers," activists arrested and interrogated in advance of the protests, pre-emptive mass arrests of people preparing puppets (in Philadelphia), and use of batons, pepper spray and rubber bullets in the streets of L.A.

National Special Security Event

The Republican National Convention has been officially designated a "National Special Security Event." Earlier such events have included the 2003 Winter Olympics and the 2002 Super Bowl.

Millions of dollars will be pumped into law enforcement by the Department of Homeland Security. According to the NY Sun, "Federal duties will include monitoring airspace, building barricades and fencing, and bringing in K-9 teams."

The Secret Service will be in charge of coordinating security. And the FBI, according to the New York Times , will be in charge of "collecting intelligence and providing crisis management, and gives the Federal Emergency Management Administration [FEMA] the job of dealing with the effects of any possible crisis." FEMA, it should be noted, has the authority to call out the National Guard.

There have already been calls to have the military at the ready. The Daily News in February told of how federal authorities were pushing for the availability of U.S. troops, "The number of troops mentioned during the briefing was in the thousands, sources said, adding that officials have discussed a similar strategy for the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July."

Taking on the Miami Model

People preparing for the RNC are particularly looking to use the "Miami Model"-- the tactics used by law enforcement at the anti Free Trade Association of the Americas (FTAA) demonstration in Miami in November 2003.

The authorities in Miami brought together the repressive tactics accrued in the last couple years to create an atmosphere where protest and dissent themselves are considered "suspect" and "criminal." Similarly, an FBI Memo distributed widely to law enforcement agencies before antiwar protests in October 2003 cast those legal protests with a terrorist brush, saying, "the possibility exists that elements of the activist community may attempt to engage in violent, destructive, or disruptive acts."

During the protests, downtown Miami was turned into a deserted militarized zone, with the power structure and media calling up a specter of disruption by protesters that moved many businesses to close. Included in the "Model" were pre-emptive arrests, surveillance, and unvarnished police violence in the form of mobile water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray, concussion grenades, tasers, electrified shields, and tanks.

Some sense of climate they see generating was shown in a New York Times article in February which reported on how the NYPD is "scheduled to begin chemical and biological training for entire units on Wednesday, with the goal of having 10,000 officers ready in time for the Republican National Convention."

With that as a backdrop, on December 10 a demonstration was held at One Police Plaza organized by the Campaign to Demilitarize the Police saying, "No Miami in New York!" It called for full disclosure of NYPD planning for the RNC 2004, that the NYPD stop using interlocking metal barricades (a growing demand among protesters in New York City), that it not prevent people from reaching demonstration sites (including by providing false information), that it not conduct unwarranted searches, seizures and destruction of personal property, and that it put an end to surveillance of protesters and preemptive arrests.

Similarly, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed three lawsuits against the NYPD in November. The suits challenge the police department on the tactics it used against anti-war protesters in February 2003, where police fed people into tightly packed pens, blocked off access to streets so people couldn't get to the rally, and repeatedly charged the crowd with their horses.

In response, the police are adjusting their tactics to appear to be upholding the right to protest, but are actually building a bigger containment area. At the rally and march of tens of thousands in New York on the one-year anniversary of the U.S. war against Iraq, police erected a sprawling labyrinth of interlocking barriers effectively making a protest "pen" that spanned over 20 city blocks.

The ruling class is in the midst of an election year in which their whole "democratic process" is supposed to show how the common people can voice their opinion. But meanwhile, they are going to extraordinary means to ratchet up even more undemocratic measures to clamp down on any opposition to the government's whole agenda of war and repression.

In many ways the Battle of the RNC has already begun. The planning of resistance forces is being met by sharp counter-measures by law enforcement. All of this is leading up to what promises to be a major political battle this summer.