By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
While inside the debate moderator Lester Holt failed to ask questions about joblessness, medical care, student loans, police murder or mass incarceration, New York police outside the debate showed the world how to suppress free speech with a soft hand, diverting more than two thousand protesters into “free speech zones” long lines and checkpoints and spaces artfully designed to prevent groups from concentrating in one place or finding each other.
Hundreds of Cops Divert and Foil Protesters Outside NY Presidential Debate
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
I took time out from family stuff in New York to drive into Long Island for Monday’s presidential debates. I brought camera and audio gear, planning to interview some of the busloads coming from Journey For Justice to protest the bipartisan drive to privatize public schools which both Trump and Hillary support, and to record the arrests of those objecting to the exclusion of Green Party candidates Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka for Black Agenda Radio.
Driving in at 1 PM I discovered that hundreds of full time and auxiliary cops from multiple jurisdictions and the state police had been mobilized to close all the parkway exits within three or four miles of the Hofstra campus. There were two copters circling and a balloon in the air. All the surface streets bordering or passing, and many of those simply neighboring two secured zones were closed to vehicles and pedestrians. The two secured zones were each three quarters by a half mile, one north and the other south of Hempstead St. The north zone with most of the campus, auditorium and hotel complex where the debates actually took place was fenced in and locked down, off limits to everybody not on a list. Jill Stein apparently got in by boarding a bus for credentialed media, was ejected around 2 PM and later regained entrance to the area some other way.
Volunteers on the Jill Stein/Ajamu Baraka buses planned on creating a newsworthy spectacle, committing civil disobedience and being arrested. Their buses were directed into the north zone. All other protesters were funneled into the zone south of Hempstead and kept there. The south zone was calculated to contain, confuse and misdirect protesters arriving by car and bus. Coming from the west, I followed followed the perimeter of the two zones for more than a mile to a checkpoint with metal detectors. Past that checkpoint you were confined by cops and barriers to a sidewalk twelve feet wide and a quarter mile long on the south side of Hempstead leading to a “free speech area” with another checkpoint behind it and a maze of streets and sidewalks outside the checkpoint blocked for the day to slow movement into, through or out of the southern zone.
Around 3 PM thirty of us tried to cross Hempstead to into the northern zone where the buses from Jill Stein’s campaign containing our people who would be arrested were. Cops wouldn’t let us cross the street, and instead waved us down the maze of dead end and temporarily closed streets and sidewalks that stretched our three quarter mile walk into two miles and cut our numbers in half before we got within a couple hundred yards of the Marriott and our people. Police let senior campaign staffer Kevin Zeese and another guy through the line and turned the rest of us back toward the south zone.
On recrossing Hempstead we found tightened street and sidewalk closures now funneled us to a 3 lane security checkpoint manned by around 60 cops blocking our re-entrance to the south zone. That many lanes at an airport will let a half dozen people per minute through, taking off their shoes and scanning luggage. But with more than a thousand in line arrived by car and busloads, checkpoint cops deliberately slowed admittance or re-admittance to the southern zone for half an hour to one person every two or three minutes. I waited in line an hour to get back in, hundreds more waited longer.
By 5:30 there were more than two thousand protesters in the south zone. Through the afternoon and evening several larger waves tried as we had to cross into the north zone where our protesters planned to be arrested. All were blocked by police entering the north zone, and inside the south zone hundreds were prevented by police barriers from reaching their buses and parked cars to leave the area.
If you weren’t paying close attention it almost looked like a case of terminal disorganization on the part of protesters who couldn’t put their people, protests and buses in the right locations and times. But this was not disorganized protesters, this was slick crowd control, executed on ground where the authorities had weeks to plan and prepare. This was not Standing Rock with vicious dogs, or Ferguson with tear gas and snarling pigs pointing automatic weapons at crowds. This was New York style sophisticated crowd control with soft hands and mostly smiling faces, with pedestrian barriers, checkpoints, free speech areas and long narrow spaces aimed at misdirecting and preventing groups of people from finding each other and slowing the growth and movement of crowds from one point to the next into, within and away from the protest zone.
I wasn’t well. I’d just driven up from Georgia that morning, so I had to leave around six, failing to connect with the anti-school privatization folks I’d hoped to interview, or record the arrests that took place on the other side of Hempstead from the two thousand protesters. People expecting to leave around 8:30 discovered that shifting police lines and barriers wouldn’t allow them to reach their buses. The two copters continued to hover low and high over the two zones till nearly midnight.
During the debate between Hillary and Trump, moderator Lester Holt failed to ask any questions about poverty, medical care, gentrification, police murder or mass incarceration. Nobody brought up the drive to privatize public education, an issue where Democrat Barack Obama agreed with Republicans John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 because Hillary and Trump agree pretty much on this too.
The terrain inside the debate was as carefully controlled as that outside.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and serves on the state committee of the GA Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
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