WEF: 36 Arrested, But Protests Remain Peaceful
- News for Anarchists & Activists:
February 3, 2002
The New York Times
36 Are Arrested, but Demonstrations Remain Peaceful
by DAN BARRY
It turned out to be a beautiful day for protest yesterday,
with a little something for everybody. Peaceful
demonstrations, catchy slogans, colorful placards, plenty of
police officers and even a few arrests.
Yesterday was the ballyhooed day when thousands of
anarchists, socialists and just plain-old regular folks came
to New York to rally against the World Economic Forum, which
has brought 2,700 government leaders and corporate
executives to the Waldorf-Astoria for the express purpose of
"improving the state of the world." Adding to the mix were
thousands of police officers assigned to keep the peace,
along with untold numbers of federal law enforcement
officials and armed bodyguards.
By early evening, an estimated 7,000 protesters had engaged
in a loud but peaceful rally within earshot of the Waldorf
on Park Avenue, and then disbanded. By that point, police
officials said, at least 38 people had been arrested, on
charges of disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly and
reckless endangerment, and three officers had been injured.
"So far, so good," Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said
last night, although he added that other challenges
remained. Some 2,000 guests of the economic forum were to be
bused under heavy guard last night for a dinner at the New
York Stock Exchange in Lower Manhattan. In addition, two
more protests are planned for today and another on Monday.
People intent on protesting had been trickling into the city
for days, with a few joining some early demonstrations
against the five-day forum, which convened on Thursday. But
organizers have always maintained that yesterday would be
the marquee day for peaceful protest, although they have not
denied that outbreaks of unlawful behavior were possible,
from civil disobedience to the kind of property destruction
that has marred other protests against economic conferences.
Yesterday morning, as guests of the forum at least those
who did not linger at any of the exclusive parties on Friday
night arose to choose from a breakfast buffet of panel
discussions, their critics began to assemble outside. So did
hundreds of police officers; for every protester's placard,
there seemed to be an officer's helmet.
Then, at 9:50, two young men were hauled away on charges
that they had tried to block traffic by sitting on Park
Avenue, across from the Waldorf. Although charges were
dropped against one of the suspects, the incident seemed to
serve as the starter's pistol for the day's events: Super
Saturday had officially begun.
As the sun rose above the tall buildings along the East
Side, a few hundred protesters limbered up in the
barricadelike pens outside the Waldorf. Tambourines chimed,
cowbells rang, chants started.
"Money for jobs!" shouted a man on the back of a black Ford
pickup truck, his hoarse voice amplified by speakers. "Not
for war!" responded the protesters at least those who had
not taped their mouths shut as a silent gesture of dissent.
Meanwhile, hundreds of police officers stood on street
corners or sat in vans, sipping coffee, waiting. There was
nothing leisurely about that wait, as evidenced by the
phalanx of 17 officers on horseback, directly across Park
Avenue from the Waldorf.
At the same time, on 59th Street along the southern rim of
Central Park, hundreds of other demonstrators had gathered
in two spots: on the West Side, near Columbus Circle, and at
the corner of Fifth Avenue, across from the Plaza Hotel.
Police officers on bicycles darted in and out of the crowd,
while dozens of others stood in clusters, watching the back-
and-forth flow of young people carrying sharply worded
"We're joking that their tactic must be to push us off the
sidewalk," said Jeff Bale, 30, of a group called
Mobilization for Global Justice.
Why had the protesters come? Mary Libby, 25, who said she
worked with the homeless in Michigan, explained that she was
"trying to reclaim the streets and our lives." Everything is
upside down, she said, when corporate executives hire Elton
John to perform at a private party at the Four Seasons, an
event that took place Friday night.
She objected to paying Elton John a substantial fee to
perform for an hour or two "when that money could be used to
feed the homeless right outside the building they're in."
For a while, the scene felt more like a giddy political
bazaar than the staging area for imminent ideological
conflict. It was a minifestival of dissent, with colorful
puppets and placards bobbing in the air, drums beating out a
catchy beat and people handing out leaflets that decried
capitalism in general and the forum in particular. Even some
in the blue arc of police officers around the scene allowed
a few smiles.
The intense preparation by the Police Department may have
allowed for a relaxed smile or two from its ranks. As late
as yesterday morning, police officials were meeting with
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to go over last-minute details,
and Commissioner Kelly was planning to monitor the scene in
From above, he might have seen general cooperation between
those in blue and those who were not. At noon, Police Chief
Allan H. Hoehl and other officials huddled with several
lawyers for the rally; they looked like two sets of coaches
wishing each other well before a game.
Ronald L. Kuby, one of the lawyers, later said that the two
sides were ironing out minor details, like whether speakers
could stand on the pedestal of a statue of Gen. William
Tecumseh Sherman. They were allowed to stand on the first
step. "We compromised," he said.
By 1:15 p.m., most of the protesters who had assembled at
Columbus Circle had joined the others in front of the Plaza,
and together they began a somewhat circuitous march toward
the Waldorf, where hundreds of other demonstrators were
continuing to chant and poke the sky with their placards.
Near the front of the parade were several women dressed as
the Statue of Liberty, draped in silver and carrying
papier-mâché torches. At one point, people hoisted two of
the women above the crowd, in classic cheerleader formation,
bringing a chorus of approval. The women in silver also
delighted the crowd by forming a chorus line and singing
"New York, New York."
Along the parade route, protesters stopped to photograph
officers standing guard outside a Starbucks cafe, and
occasionally shouted out to the people on the sidewalk,
"This is more fun than shopping."
And at East 51st Street and Lexington Avenue, the parade
passed a small counterdemonstration, in which people waved
signs that said, "The Police Are Great, It's Terrorists We
Hate," and "Seek Therapy."
But the day had its share of tension, of clashes between
protester and police officer. Three people were arrested and
charged with disorderly conduct at Columbus Circle; four at
47th and Lexington; two others at 52nd and Broadway.
The most dramatic moment, however, came at 1:30 p.m., when
police officers waded into the tail end of the parade, at
59th Street and Fifth Avenue, and arrested 27 people on
charges of unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct. Mr.
Kelly said that the police had received information that
this group which included people who he said were carrying
plastic shields and masks "were about to attack the
Debra Sweet, a spokeswoman for an activist organization
called Refuse and Resist, said last night that the
circumstances of the arrests were unclear. But, she said,
"from reports we have, the police seemed to be extracting
particular people, especially people wearing masks."
After the arrests, a few lawyers and legal assistants stood
alongside a large Department of Correction bus containing
some of the arrested, and tried to get their names. One
young woman mouthed her first name: "L-A-U-R-A."
Another young man in custody shouted, "I think it's
imperative to report that we did not do anything illegal."
Then the bus pulled away.
At Grand Central Terminal, a group of about 200 protesters
entered the station just after 7 p.m. and were surrounded by
dozens of uniformed police officers, many of them from the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority. A number wore white
visored helmets and heavy vests, carried riot sticks, and
had gas masks and plastic handcuffs strapped to their belts.
Two police dogs appeared.
The protesters clapped, sang and beat on drums, and were
then surrounded by the police. After a period of tension,
the protesters sat down on the floor of the terminal, but
neither side made a hostile move and the air of
confrontation gradually dissipated. Eventually, the
demonstrators wound up gathered in small groups in the
terminal, chatting or eating, as the police stood and
watched, chatting among themselves.
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