NEW YORK -- If estimates are to be believed, the number of delegates and party officials in New York for the Republican convention will be more than outweighed by the population of demonstrators. Manhattan, which voted 79-15 for Al Gore in 2000, will still be very much a Democratic city while the Republicans are visiting. In fact, Manhattan will be more left wing than usual, because among the protesters will be a good portion of radicals. The latter include anarchists who have been rather open about their plans to cause urban mayhem for a police force already taxed by heightened terror alerts.
According to the New York Sun, an anarchist group called A-31 has discussed forming blockades and disrupting order outside the offices of Citigroup, the Carlyle Group, the Rand Corporation, and Hummer of Manhattan, as well as a meeting of Bank of America executives at Tavern on the Green. They will try to crash private parties and otherwise show up "where the Republicans least expect us. " Another plan described in the New York Times involves hijacking a Republican delegates' bus by pasting signs over the windshield to obstruct the driver's vision, then surrounding the vehicle and getting the driver to abandon it. Other radicals have refused to rule out attacks on property.
The NYPD has been conducting extensive preparations for the arrival of troublemakers. Some 10,000 officers have been equipped with power saws and bolt cutters to separate protesters who may chain themselves together, perhaps as part of the blockades described above. As for the bus attack, a police spokesman said only, "We're prepared to deal with that tactic."
Imagine the reaction in the media, and among Boston government officials, if groups of conservative protesters had announced their intention to "disrupt" the business of the city during the Democratic convention last month. Reasonable citizens might wonder why the NYPD, working overtime to guard against terrorists, should have to work so hard to protect the city from American citizens as well. They might also wonder why those making threats against locations like the Citigroup building (already targeted by terrorists) are not brought in for questioning.
Fortunately for the radicals, New York's accommodating Mayor Bloomberg has come up with a different response: he is giving out discount buttons for use at local restaurants, stores, and Broadway shows, to all protesters who promise not to be violent. In announcing his "Peaceful Protester" program, Bloomberg memorably said, "It's no fun to protest on an empty stomach." But it seems to me that foot soldiers for justice and equality should know what hunger feels like. They need to suffer and build solidarity with the millions reeling under the tyranny of President Bush.
Instead, radicals stand to get access to many of the same discounts as convention delegates, and all for abstaining -- or pledging to abstain -- from violence and vandalism. This must be the first time a mayor has paid radicals protection money.
It should come as no surprise that Bloomberg's unprecedented hospitality is being met with scorn. Like all provocateurs, the radicals interpret accommodation as weakness. "We don't want discounts, we want our First Amendment rights," said a spokesman for United for Peace and Justice, the largest of the protest groups. He was referring to the legal battle between the group and the city over a permit for a rally in Central Park on August 29th. The city has balked, saying the estimated number of protesters will destroy the park's Great Lawn, which was re-seeded a few years ago at considerable taxpayer expense. The city has offered a large swath of the West Side Highway for the rally, and has also approved a separate march up Seventh Avenue past Madison Square Garden, where the convention is being held.
If the city was any more accommodating, they would have to call this the Radical National Convention.
Bloomberg's attempt to buy off trouble is reminiscent of the defeatist attitude New York had about crime and public order before the arrival of his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani. The city's demoralized attitude was encapsulated in the hand-written signs inside many parked cars that read, "No Radio." The authors of these signs were not only accepting thieves' presence as a fact of life, they were attempting to bargain with them. Most of the time, their windows got smashed anyway.
Now Mayor Bloomberg has taken a similar stance toward radicals openly threatening people and property. Give them a discount at Starbuck's, send them to The Producers, and pray that they don't act up. It's the kind of thinking that got New York into trouble.
If windows do get smashed, New Yorkers may wish Giuliani was in City Hall again, instead of just speaking from the convention stage. But then, some of us wish he never left.
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