2003-03-29 / Columnists

From the

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

I am in favor of protest. Even though I believe that we had no choice but to go to war with Iraq, I understand that those who believe differently have a right to peacefully protest the government’s actions.

I am tired, however, of hearing that those who are protesting the war are the proverbial "little old ladies in tennis shoes" who have no agenda but to save American lives.

That is not true, and it never has been, despite the rants of Jimmy Breslin and The New York Times.

In his latest Newsday column on the subject of those who were protesting last Saturday, Breslin wrote, "The kids, artists and waiters and cab drivers, the kind of people who do anything they can to get expense money, were the best we had yesterday."

He went on to describe a conversation with one of those "best" people who were protesting.

"How long have you been protesting," Breslin asked the man, whose name is Karl Rosenstein. "My whole life," he answered. "What do you do? "I’m a squatter." "I mean, what do you do for a job," Breslin continued. "I’m a squatter. I don’t have to pay rent, so I don’t have to have a job. I haven’t had a job in 12 years," Rosenstein reportedly answered. "What do you live on?" "Handouts from the government," was the answer. "Like what?" "I can’t tell you, I have to keep that to myself for security." That is one of Breslin’s "Best we had."

Breslin is wrong. The best of us that day were the cops who were trying to keep other citizens from being killed. The best of us were the soldiers, sailors, marines and others who were fighting to keep New York City from being invaded once again, as it was on September 11 of 2001. The best of us are the firefighters who still charge into burning buildings while everybody else is trying to get out.

Breslin thinks otherwise.

"The police at the marches suggest the need for layoffs," Breslin wrote. "The faces on the police were evidence of a belief that the First Amendment can have nothing to do with these scruffy kids and a jobless squatter."

Have another drink, Jimmy.

Mayor Bloomberg put the violence at the end of Saturday’s march in another context.

"Most of the demonstrators behaved themselves, said their piece and then went home," the mayor said. "Unfortunately, a handful of people really got out of control and injured 17 of New York City’s police officers."

Eight cops were gassed with pepper spray, one was kicked in the face and lost a tooth, two were pushed to the ground and suffered head injuries, one was hit with a brick, and two were knocked from their horses.

That kind of violence was not done by little old ladies in tennis shoes.

Anybody who cared to visit the websites of some of the groups planning the march would have found that a militant splinter group planned to leave the march and draw the police into a confrontation. Their strategy obviously worked. The police had no choice but to try and stop the protesters who left the planned route or who lingered in the park long after the march ended. Those people had promised violence – smashed windows, burned automobiles, and it was the police department’s job to stop them.

The confrontation came and the protestors where joined by the likes of Breslin in cries of police brutality. That is just what they wanted to do from the first. What they planned on all along.

And, things promise to get worse. Now that the war has begun despite the slogans of the peace movement, the more militant in that movement are arguing that conventional tactics have obviously failed and it is now a time for civil disobedience.

According to Todd Gitlin, a peace activist himself, "United for Peace and Justice, a coalition that cosponsored the huge demonstration in New York City and elsewhere, has now endorsed civil disobedience in Washington, D.C. there will probably be more window smashing and other violence."

Gitlin says that his peace movement is at a fork in the road.

So are the police and those who are tasked with protecting society.

Should they allow the window smashing and violence to continue in the name of "free speech?" Should they bow to the demonstrators so that the cries of police brutality can be stilled?

You know the answer to those questions as well as I do.

The Constitution says, "Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

What United For Peace wants is an end to the war in Iraq but it also wants the beginning of a war in the streets of New York City in order to "prove" to the world what a fascist society we really have become.

Many of those who are opposed to the war have become the dupes of those who planned the events, a group called "United For Peace and Justice," a group who has another agenda entirely, one that includes a Palestinian state and the demise of American power in the world. That is an agenda that many residents would not normally agree with or support. Yet, because of their opposition to the war in Iraq, they march with the group.

None of us should be supporting violent activity in the streets of our already shell shocked city in the name of peace. Provoking our overworked police should not be our goal.

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