2003-03-08 / Editorial/Opinion

From the Editor's Desk

By Howard Schwach
From the Editor's Desk By Howard Schwach

From the Editor's Desk
By Howard Schwach

America is a nation where everybody has "rights" and where they generally believe that they know what those rights are.

They are often wrong.

Most of the rights people in America enjoy come from the Constitution. I would doubt that one out of ten who loudly claim that they know their rights have ever read the constitution.

One wise man opined, "The Constitution is not a suicide pact."

That is just what many people would like it to be.

Lorraine Kreahling is one of those people. Lorraine is a writer who lives in Manhattan and Greenport, the latter as far out on Long Island as you can go without getting your feet wet.

She wrote an op-ed piece for Newsday about the anti-war demonstration held in Manhattan the week previously.

"The orders for crowd control handed down to the police meant hundreds of thousands of demonstrators - many of whom had traveled hundreds of miles - were prevented from attending the rally. The threat of 'terrorism' was being used to treat peace advocates as dangerous types," she wrote. "You had to be there to know how laughable this was. The crowd was made up of the people from your supermarket, people who wrote literate signs..."

Jimmy Breslin, who won a Pulitzer once upon a time when he was rational, jumped in as well.

"If he (Mayor Michael Bloomberg) had bothered to come across to the east side and see the disgraceful performance by his police department, he might have been shaken up enough to change things," Breslin wrote. "They decided to suffocate free speech and the right to assembly and block the march."

"As Americans, we pride ourselves in having the freest democracy on the planet," said the City Council's Deputy Majority Leader, Bill Perkins. "I understand the need to balance safety and democracy, particularly after September 11, but we also need a better understanding of police practices."

Although Perkins probably does not understand why, he is on the right track.

The need to balance safety and democracy. What an interesting idea.

Kreahling does not seem to understand the concept, nor does Breslin.

We are not in Kansas anymore.

In fact, the Constitution itself says nothing about individual rights.

The Bill of Rights, the first ten amend­ments to the Constitution does.

The First Amendment is perhaps the most famous as well as the most misunderstood.

It reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peacefully to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

That's it. That's all the Constitution says about individual rights in relation to demonstrations.

What it says is that Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people peacefully to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances (emphasis mine).

Since September 11, that word has taken on a new meaning to most Amer­icans.

And, despite what Kreahling says about little old ladies from your supermarket who write literate signs, the umbrella organization that planned the demonstration, "United For Peace and Justice," is not a peaceful organization. It has orchestrated violence in a number of venues and some of its leaders and adherents are proponents of violence as a means of changing the political establishment.

That organization asked for a permit to march past the United Nations building. It was refused by the NYPD on grounds that, under Orange Alert Status, it would be dangerous to allow the organization access to that building.

Federal District Court Judge Barbara Jones, who is usually not a friend of law enforcement, ruled in favor of the NYPD. In her decision, Justice Jones cited the fact that terrorist threats warrant a "bubble cushion" around the international building.

Given that decision, was it so unreasonable for the NYPD to limit unfettered movement in the area where the demonstration was to be held? I do not think so, and I believe that the majority of New Yorker's would agree.

The system of controlling access to an area and isolating large groups of people within that area was not developed for this demonstration.

In fact, it has been used dozens of times during large demonstrations, as well as on New Year's Eve in Times Square. Nobody has ever complained on New Year's Eve that he or she was put into a "pen" and kept away from other revelers. They realize that the system is for their protection and they accept it.

The demonstrators, unhappy about them political system, and probably themselves as well, saw it differently.

The "pen" system that isolates and controls has always been successful in keeping problems from developing, as it did on the day of the demonstration.

Lorraine Kreahling wants to know why she was simply not allowed to walk down Fifth Avenue with the other 200,000 demonstrators. She wants to know why the police would not allow her and the others to go wherever they wanted to go.

She should take a walk downtown, to Ground Zero, and then she might be able to figure out for herself what is going on.

She asks why she was treated differently from the St. Patrick's Day Crowd. The answer is, she wasn't. That crowd is penned in as well, although many are too inebriated to realize it.

Why are some groups allowed to parade and others are not? I don't have the answer to that question.

I would rather, however, allow the NYPD to make that decision than I would Newsday or "United for Peace and Justice."

The NYPD has a job to do. That job is protecting the citizens of New York from terrorists, other skells and, often, themselves.

Which is more than you can say for Newsday or Jimmy Breslin.

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