A WALK IN THE PARK III

Posted: September 3, 2008 in A Walk in the Park: My Coverage of the 2008 DNC
A LOCAL PERSPECTIVE ON THE DEMOCRA(P)TIC NATIONAL CONVENTION
PART III: WELCOME TO THE POLICE STATE
“If there’s one thing I can guarantee, it’s: Don’t try and have fun in Denver, Colorado. Because if you do, the fuckwits in the Denver Police Department will gas your ass straight into the ground…” –William S. Burroughs

Denver was finally given the chance to show its stuff as a major city capable of hosting a world event. Hopefully those tired old rumors of Denver being a “cow town” are finally displaced. During this politically heightened week in Denver, history was made as the first bi-racial African American was nominated for president by the Democratic party. The mood was boisterous and celebratory in light of this historical moment and it was indeed a shining moment for the Mile High City as we showed the world that we can get political (and that it doesn’t snow 11 months out of the year).

Denver has a history of large crowds clashing with the police and getting gassed. Most of these events have been sports-team-victory-related, such as the 1996 Stanley Cup victory by the inaugural Colorado Avalanche, or the back-to-back Super Bowl victories in ’97 and ’98 by the Denver Broncos. During those events, over a quarter of a million people flooded the streets of downtown Denver wreaking havok in their revelry, and sadly forcing those pussycats in the Denver Police Dept. to break out the ol’ tear gas. The Democratic National Convention was no sporting event however, and despite the overwhelming surge of people “dancin’ in the streets,” the revelry remained gregarious.
What a week it’s been trying to live amongst all of these cops and crazies and tree-hugging hippie types. Much to the relief and surprise of the planners of this event, the angry and befuddled masses kept the discourse civil and left the cops with nothing to do; well, there was a bizarre donut shortage during the week, but I say: “A happy cop is good for everyone,” and for the most part, the Denver police were a bunch of sweethearts (there was that little incident on Monday, the 25th when police gassed a group of protesters that strayed from their designated zone, but more on that later).
Now that the dust has settled, I have had some time to ponder a concept that came up during the DNC that I want to address. As I reported before, the protest movement during the DNC was well under the anticipated numbers and for the most part lacked substance. The groups were mostly fringe and precipitous and thankfully non-violent. But was this due to mere sloth, or was it due to the overall aura of police intimidation?
The police presence in Denver was mighty to behold. It seemed that there was a group of heavily armed cops on every street corner. As I walked through Civic Park in the dapple of late summer sunshine, I noticed that there were typically more cops than protesters. Some civil rights activists complained that the need for so many police personnel was unjustified and oppressive and had deterred many individuals from coming out to speak their mind.
I was able to obtain a training manual used by the police that explains certain “illegal” protest methods. Such methods include handcuffing two or more protester’s wrists together inside of a metal tube, erecting tall tripod-like structures for a protester to perch atop of, and other radical methods of demonstrating. While I’m sure that these methods amount to a headache for law enforcement, how have they become illegal?
The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights provides its citizens the right to free speech and assembly. It does not specify which acts of protesting are legal or illegal. The point of protesting is to affect change through civil disobedience usually against a tyranny. Protesting is usually the result of a person or group feeling marginalized by a more dominant group who tends to have a more influential forum. The protesters set out to thrust their beliefs into the public eye through means that are attention-grabbing, unorthodox, and sometimes shocking. How can the oppressed gain exposure if their methods are reduced to de-sensitized conventionality? What ever happened to the ’60’s? Remember the Buddhists who set themselves on fire? Talk about radical. Some of the methods used by innovative activists during the Vietnam War would, today, be rendered as terrorism.
Ever since September 11, 2001, Americans have had a greater awareness for the need for heightened security. This holds true especially for Barack Obama, who is certainly a marked man. I was relieved to see that he was well protected during this event. The simple fact that I heard the “A” word already being discussed (assassination), shows me that there are still too many backwards-thinking bigots around to safely let our guard down. But where do we draw the line? How much of our civil liberties, including the right to adequately protest, are we willing to give up for this so-called security?
Demonstrators in Denver certainly got a dose of the new climate of fear and security. Larger groups were herded along designated parade routes and “free-speech” zones. When they deviated from the route, or had planned unscheduled marches, they were met with swift and brutal police force, including an ostensibly excessive use of tear gas.. A close associate of mine put it to me like this: “Their right to protest wasn’t taken away, only their mobility.” This brought up a very disturbing idea. If dissent is largely controlled, how effective can it really be at affecting change? In this post 9/11 world, has conventional protesting become obsolete? Only time will tell…

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