Monday Night at the Fights
Originally uploaded by manteo.
I got to MSG at around 8:30 this evening, and had a hell of a time making my way from the Sixth Avenue Penn Station exit to Eighth Avenue, site of the designated protest zone. There was a lockdown on the streets extending several blocks south of the Garden. Agitated legal observers and bemused, angry anarchists roamed in small knots, and the police presence was even heavier than I'd expected.
Turns out I'd just missed the drama. I put the story together as best I could, interviewing both NLG volunteers and demonstrators who'd been there.
The trouble had come at the end of the Poor People's Economic Justice March, sponsored by Still We Rise. The march had begun peacefully enough, with a rally near the UN. The two thousand or so attendees then set off down Second Avenue and then turned west along 23rd Street, their numbers swelling as the march progressed. At a few points along the way, contingents of police charged into the crowd to arrest particular marchers, though nobody seemed to know why: one demonstrator I spoke to suggested that they might have been taken for suspects in yesterday's dragon-burning escapade. (Bloomberg News says that two of the arrests were for "disorderly conduct," but that can mean almost anything in practice.)
As the march arrived at the RNC designated protest area on Eighth Avenue below 30th street, the police suddenly and without warning (this is how the legal observers, not just the protesters, described it) ran a barricade across the Avenue at 29th Street, cutting the procession in two and causing a melee. Some protesters told me that the police had used pepper spray and even tear gas, but it was hard to get solid confirmation of that.
This seems very much like a case of the police overreacting when they percieved some possibility that they might lose control. The massive demonstration yesterday was handled in a very relaxed and professional manner, probably in large part thanks to the efforts of the organizers to make it run smoothly. Tonight's event was more spontaneous (the march did not even have a permit, but the police allowed it to take the streets), and that unpredictability didn't go down so well with the forces of law and order - especially as the group approached MSG.
By the time I arrived, only a handful of demonstrators remained, shouting slogans at the steel and glass walls of the GOP's temporary fortress, that monstrosity which squats atop the ruins of the old Penn Station. One used to enter New York like a king, it is said, now one scurries in like a rat.
There may be a coronation going on in there, but even from behind the barricades, a block and a half away from the back end of the Garden, New Yorkers can smell a rat.