In a disgusting show of force that is reminiscent of how Miami PD acted during the 2003 FTAA meetings, LAPD was caught on video clubbing journalists and shooting non-violent activists with rubber bullets, sending ten people to the hospital, including seven reporters.
As I sit here preparing my own legal action against Miami PD as well await the results on an internal affairs investigation on the excessive force they used in arresting me, I can’t help but think about the time I witnessed NYPD diffusing a possible volatile situation during an immigration rally.
The May Day 2006 immigration rally in NYC had been very peaceful, but towards the end, a group of youths who were caught in the momentum of the protest were not exactly heeding police orders to disperse.
They weren’t being violent, but they were getting rowdy, chanting loudly and dancing in the streets, even mocking police. At one point, a group of flag-carrying youths ran up on the Brooklyn Bridge, testing to see just how far they can push the limits.
New York City motorcycle police officers responded by forcing the youths off the bridge in the way a cowboy corrals cattle.
In a plaza at the foot of the bridge, one officer ended up tackling a youth who allegedly had badmouthed him, prompting a chorus of anti-police chants.
I was caught up in the middle of the action and I quickly ensured I had enough battery power and memory space to be able to photograph the chaos that was sure to ensue.
But rather than respond with more aggression, the remainder of the officers remained calm, yet stood their ground. They managed to break up the large crowd at the plaza by sending smaller groups into several separate directions.
The crowd was caught in a frenzy and you could see some of the officers were just itching for a free-for-all police brawl. But the commanding officers on the scene kept them in check.
I remember one incident when several motorcycle officers were riding behind a group of youths who were walking away. One of the motorcycle officers got real close to the crowd in the aggressive way some officers get when things don’t go as smoothly as they wish.
That was when one of the commanders ran up to the motorcycle officer, grabbed him by the tail bar and forced him to stop, telling him, “they’re leaving, just let them go.”
He didn’t berate him or ridicule him. He said it almost smilingly. As if showing the motorcycle officer that everything was in control.
And everything was in control. Within 20 minutes of the incident that had almost pushed the crowd over the edge, it was over. The streets of NYC were back to normal; as normal as those streets will ever be.
I gained a lot of respect for NYPD that day. They handled the situation authoritatively but without going overboard. Had they been a tad bit more aggressive, they would have started a riot that would have dominated the newscasts (and rightly so), but which would have killed the overall message of the rally.
What I learned that day is that police play a major role in whether or not a protest remains peaceful or becomes violent.
It’s too bad LAPD and MPD can’t learn a lesson from NYPD.