After writing about the demonstration I witnessed I decided to look around for other perspectives on it in the local news. None of the local television stations had anything about it, and likewise none of the daily papers had anything. There were plenty of cameras there, so I began to wonder at how many things go on in this city that are simply ignored or swept under the rug. On rare occasions little tidbits slip out here and there, but on the whole anything which points out the dissatisfaction of the populace is kept quiet.
The week following the demonstration, which had been primarily to protest Mayor Giulianni's poor treatment of the average citizen on the street, the New York Times ran an article stating how happy everyone was with the way he was cleaning up the city. Granted, the number of people at the rally was small compared with the population of New York City, but I can hardly believe that the Times was reporting on the mayors approval rating without reporting on instances where people were dissatisfied enough to protest.
Last week there was a march for the awareness of gay hate crimes spurred by the beating and murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. The marchers planned to march down Fifth avenue for about 20 blocks. As their numbers swelled, and they began to overflow onto the streets the police responded in exactly the same manner as I witnessed at the Broadway street demonstration. They tried to herd everyone on to the sidewalks and pin them in a small area (too small for their numbers) by using brute force, scooters, and horses. One woman had her ankle sprained as a horse collided with her while pushing back the crowd.
The police claimed that they were simply trying to protect the people and the traffic. It seems to me that pushing, shoving, and pinning people into a smaller area than they can fit is a really bad tactic. In the cases the NY Times brought up every recent case caused injury, and some a violent backlash against the police resulting in arrests.
The founders of the U.S. had come from a society where the police were free to act in the name of the state with little regard for the people. The constitution and it's ammendments were supposed to protect us from many of those abuses. It seems that as people forget how abusive a government can be, they allow people like Mayor Giulianni to give more and more power to the police in the name of safety, wresting power from the people and making us virtual prisoners on our own streets.
Many people would say that if you aren't doing anything wrong then you don't have anything to worry about. The problem is that I have witnessed that I don't need to be doing anything wrong for the police to push me around and treat me like a criminal. The last time I looked, walking down the sidewalk was not a crime in the U.S. In the name of my safety I am now videotaped nearly every time I walk out of my door. I apparently can't be trusted to be on my own anywhere except in by own home with the doors and windows closed. If this is sounding a little bit like prison to you, I would have to agree.
I would like the freedom to wander the streets un-observed and unmolested. If I am harrased by drug dealers or muggers I have legal recourse, but If I am followed or shoved around by the police all I can do is take it.
Apparently not enough people care that they are slowly losing their right to live a private life. My puny voice is not enough to halt this slide into the world of 1984. I hope that my words will wake people up enough so that my voice is not the only one. When privacy issues come up, speak out. When your city or state wants to put in some video cameras around town to 'protect you', speak out. And when the police restrict your movements on the street and tell you that you have no choice, speak out. Don't just let yourself be surprised one day to be living in the largest prison in the world.
john m. brewer
october 26, 1998/january 25, 1999