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Who Is That Masked Man?

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  • Clore Daniel C
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo Who Is That Masked Man? New York Police Admit Profiling Anarchists by Eric Laursen, In
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 9, 2001
      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      Who Is That Masked Man? New York Police Admit Profiling

      by Eric Laursen, In These Times

      This city was treated to a most unusual political trial in
      June, when 12 anarchists appeared in Manhattan Criminal
      Court charged with "masquerading in public" on May Day 2000.
      It was the first prosecution in decades under a 150-year-old
      state law that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani dusted off two years
      ago to block a Ku Klux Klan rally.

      Thanks to an earlier court decision, the non-jury trial gave
      the anarchists a rare opportunity to discuss and defend
      their beliefs in court--including the black clothing and
      bandannas that have become common at protests. But perhaps
      most important, officers who took the witness stand admitted
      what critics have long charged--that New York police allowed
      out-of-town police to attend rallies here and videotape them
      to profile activists in preparation for protests in other
      cities. Judge Ellen Coyne's ruling is expected in

      The case concerns the arrest of a group of anarchists just
      before an annual May Day march. Police amassed along the
      parade route had received a briefing from an NYPD "disorder
      expert" that the crowd could include "WTO-Seattle-type
      protesters." A police surveillance videotape shows that the
      anarchists, some of whom were wearing bandannas and some
      not, were standing quietly when they were suddenly jumped by
      police, wrestled to the ground and arrested.

      The defendants were held in jail for as long as 36 hours on
      a range of charges including violation of the mask law,
      which prohibits two or more persons from "congregating" in
      public while wearing masks to obscure their identities. The
      vaguely worded statute was adopted back in the 1840s, when
      the state was trying to suppress the "Rent Wars," a series
      of tenant farmer uprisings against landlords. The mask law
      languished for many years, but other cities facing
      large-scale political protests--including Philadelphia,
      Windsor, Ontario and Quebec--have adopted their own
      anti-mask laws.

      "If Judge Coyne comes down in favor of the anarchists being
      able to participate in political events while wearing
      masks," says Beth Haroules of the New York Civil Liberties
      Union, "the message to the city is they shouldn't be using
      loitering laws to clear the streets of people expressing
      political beliefs." The NYCLU has filed a separate request
      with federal Judge Harold Baer to declare the mask law

      Attorney Ron Kuby, who represents the anarchists, compares
      the case to those of Chinese, South Korean and Iranian
      activists who have worn masks at demonstrations in those
      countries for fear of reprisal. "At least some of these
      defendants were aware that there was ongoing surveillance of
      their movement in preparation for the [then upcoming]
      Republican National Convention," which Kuby says justifies
      their wearing masks. "Indeed, the Philadelphia police were
      there [at the May Day rally] taking pictures of them."

      At trial, Kuby grilled Michael Fox, who was in charge of the
      arrests, and Thomas Graham, a deputy inspector with the
      NYPD's disorder control unit, about their own knowledge of
      anarchism. Neither was familiar with the leading anarchist
      thinkers Kuby mentioned Kropotkin, Bakunin, Berkman--and
      Graham testified that a 60 Minutes segment was his principal
      source about the movement.

      Fox also acknowledged for the first time that the NYPD and
      other police departments have been cooperating to profile
      demonstrators whom they suspect of being "Seattle-type"
      activists. This included officers from Philadelphia and
      Morristown, New Jersey, some of whom were recognized by the
      defendants from those cities, and who were in New York
      videotaping the anarchists before they were arrested.

      Although the defendants expect an acquittal, that alone will
      not eliminate the mask law as a threat to activists. "Even
      if we can prove to them that prosecution is fruitless in
      these cases, that doesn't prevent the police from making an
      arrest," Kuby notes. "Either the district attorney has to
      tell them that it's not prosecutable, or the new mayor of
      New York has to say 'don't do it.' "

      This year's May Day was again marred by arrests when police
      charged a group of activists who were performing street
      theater at a march in support of immigrant workers. Police
      arrested five--one for violating the mask law. The NYCLU is
      collecting activists' arrest stories going back to 1998 for
      a possible class-action lawsuit against the NYPD.

      Haroules is optimistic about the anarchists' chances of an
      acquittal, noting that the courts have become "a lot more
      jaundiced in their evaluation of the tactics the police are
      using." But for her, the real goal is to change police
      action: "Unfortunately, that stance hasn't filtered down to
      the behavior of the cop on the street."

      Dan Clore

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