Fortress Big Apple
Fortress Big Apple
The tagline for John Carpenter's 1981 cult sci-fi classic Escape From New York went "
Today, as in the movie, many New Yorkers are angry at the president, and as in Carpenter's grim vision of the future, at least parts of New York City will be in a state of lockdown for the President's arrival -- with a major showdown due to take place somewhere in the vicinity of Madison Square Garden (MSG). In Carpenter's future,
In our 2004, the authorities have an eerily similar vision of how the city should be.
Once upon a time in a past not so long ago,
The free-speech limiting, life-disrupting, artificial-reality-inducing security "bubbles" that empty the globe's central cities as George Bush and Dick Cheney travel through them, are already well known. From August 30 through September 2, when the Republican National Convention invades
To contain protesters and "protect" GOP'ers and fellow travelers,
Bloomberg and his associates clearly hoped that a lot of tough talk, terrorist alerts, and traditional New York City Police Department tactics -- interlocking metal barriers (if not closed pens), horses, street closures, misinformation (telling protesters they can't enter a certain area or sending them on wild odysseys to non-existent protest entry-points), and a conspicuous show of uniformed and riot-gear clad force-- would contain protestors inside a police-imposed bubble, if not simply scare them off. The NYPD is, of course, a massive army unto itself; a force of about 40,000, approximately 6,500 of whom are slated to "patrol the Garden, hotels, bridges and tunnels, protest sites and points of interest for delegates" while another 5,500 have been assigned to patrol the subway system, commuter trains and the railroad and bus stations. Roughly one-third of the department, armed with handguns, batons, and tear gas canisters -- and some, apparently inside a new state-of-the-art SWAT vehicle -- are to be deployed in support of the convention.
Back in February, this was considered more than enough manpower for whatever was coming and tough-talking NYPD spokesman Paul Browne simply stated that the city's police did "not anticipate the need for federal troops" to augment their forces. Since then, however, fears of the size of the coming protest -- given growing dissatisfaction with the Bush administration and possible uncontrolled, autonomous protest actions across all five boroughs -- led
With the chief moving in reverse, and fearing the NYPD might be outnumbered and overwhelmed, New York governor George Pataki made the call to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge requesting federal assistance and, on July 9th, Ridge (with Pataki, Bloomberg, and former mayor Rudy Giuliani in tow) announced that the Department of Homeland Security would be designating the Republican National Convention in New York (like the DNC in Boston, which is undergoing its own lockdown) a "National Special Security Event." With the invocation of that status the NYPD was relegated to a backseat role, while the United States Secret Service became the "lead agency for the design and implementation of the operational security plan."
By the end of August, at least portions of the Big Apple will be under the control of the Feds just as director Carpenter imagined it. In fact, at least "75 government entities" of all stripes including the FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be involved. The Secret Service will, according to Bloomberg's office, be "supported by... [the] Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the Department of Defense." Further, the FBI field office in
During the convention, the department will reportedly be dispatching plainclothes and uniformed operatives to "landmarks, tourist sites, sites related to the convention, bridges and tunnels, airports and other places where people gather." U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Federal Protective Service will "be placing additional security at federal facilities in the vicinity of the Republican National Convention," and U.S. Air Marshals will be "working closely with other federal law enforcement agencies to support the Secret Service."
In addition to the myriad federal agents, uniformed and undercover NYPD cops, and various federal and local agent provocateurs crawling about, the military will be called out in a show of force. In the skies above the city, along with helicopters, there will be fighter jets from a National Guard unit based in
To sum up the "security" scene: Choppers hovering above; military fighters streaking overhead; under foot, fumbling with cameras they never seem to know how to work, those famously easy-to-spot undercover cops clad in bulky sweatshirts (no matter the weather); federal suits listening to their earpieces; protective fences; "frozen zones" (huge swaths of "public" city streets to ordinary citizens); metal barriers; "vehicle checkpoints around the perimeter of the Garden manned with heavy weapons, dogs, and portable Delta barriers, which are enormous metal contraptions that lie almost flat in the road and can be raised very quickly with the flip of a switch"; mounted police; cops on bikes and scooters; NYPD K-9 units; stormtrooper-esque "Hercules" teams; conventional "arrest teams"; cops boarding commuter trains and subway cars one stop before they reach Penn Station, the hub nearest the Garden; permit refusals; murmurs about the invocation of an 1845 law prohibiting mask-wearing under certain circumstances; and Kelly and Bloomberg periodically claiming to know protesters' plans or issuing wild claims about the supposed plans of violent anarchists, "hard-core groups... looking to take us on"; and various administration officials issuing vague but chilling warnings of possible terrorism to come.
The intended effect of all this, in addition to keeping the city and nation in a state of fear and making their now insecure leaders the most "secure" people on the planet, is obviously to dishearten, frighten, and intimidate prospective protestors -- that is, citizens who want to exercise their right to protest George Bush and his policies. Just as obviously, as happens in such situations, no one seems to be more convinced by their propaganda than the propagandists. Without a single protestor appearing, the GOP, the mayor, the NYPD and the Feds are visibly running scared. The President, the GOP, and the entire administration crave an empty, sterile, "bubble-ized"
The President, who continually tells us that our world is safer due to him, aims to arrive in an alien "
"If we are diffused throughout the city, we will have a much better advantage. After all, the real target is not Madison Square Garden, the stage of the spectacle, but the various events where deals are made - where the lobbyists wine, dine, and bribe Bush & Co. [T]he RNC has promised to stage events and photo ops in every borough of the city, not just in Manhattan. If we are truly everywhere in this very big city, the police cannot be concentrated in one area..."
In John Carpenter's vision of the future New Yorkers had lost their war against an American police state. In our present, it's up to the rest of us to make sure that doesn't happen. Only we can burst Bush's bubble!
Nicholas Turse is doctoral candidate at the Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health in the
Copyright C2004 Nick Turse
[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]