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Day 190: Martial Lawlessness in New York

I’m recovering from that bloody demonstration against Martial Law. I don’t understand why no one simply tells us we are under the boot. This is surely what it would look and feel like.

Anna and I went to Times Square at noon to join thousands of New Yorkers in protesting the imposition of Army troops on the city. Not that we didn’t already have National Guards from who-knows-where, but suddenly a lot more people are being searched and taken away for questioning by guys operating under the U.S. flag in full battle gear. No rights, no lawyers, no papers.

Middle Easterners, of course, are hotly pursued. Stretches of Brooklyn are said to be deserted day and night as Muslims and swarthy residents in general hide from the authorities. I get emails from people who say their kids were snatched off the street.

COVER YOUR EARS: AN NYPD LRAD TRUCK (Peter Bergin)To cut a long story short, the NYPD would not authorize the protest. Some big shots came out with military backup and read a riot act that entitled soldiers to shoot us.

That put me on high alert. I’m not accustomed to demonstrating and this didn’t look much like photos from the Sixties. No flowers in M16 barrels.

The announcement that we were all criminals set off raucous protests from the 9/11 Conspiracy people, who tend to be young and excitable and who don’t realize that the people united can not only be defeated, they can be corralled and massacred.

I’ve never been drawn into the mystery over 9/11, an unlikely event by anyone’s standard. I am more prepared to believe that a bunch of fanatics did it than that the U.S. government could pull off such a neat and complex set of activities. I think people prefer to think that a president whom they might conceivably control (though they never did) was responsible. By personally sorting out the lines of a mega-plot, they feel that they are battling the forces behind 9/11. How do you fight the idea that some nondescript guys with box cutters can wreck your life? You grant them special powers.

We can all agree that the vaporization of the World Trade Center helped lay the ground for the state to deprive us of all liberties, whether or not the White House engineered the event. I’m confident that our administrators weren’t sorry to see it happen. I see no reason to fret over past details. (Still, I can’t resist The Children‘s gorgeous elegy, September.)

We milled around as I sized up the security. There was a lot of military gear behind the barricades. Big trucks with strange equipment loomed over the crowd. A pair of military trucks alongside the demonstrators featured bulky plates tilted gently toward us. Closest to the crowd were dense packs of New York cops in riot gear, backed by soldiers. Was the military’s ammunition live?

People chanted all kinds of crap, from flu-related stuff opposing vaccine adjuvants and suggesting that bird flu was an experiment gone wrong to calls for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from various combat missions. (An Asian guy next to me found that one funny: “Bring ‘em home so they can shoot us instead,” he yelled.) He had a point.

RUN, IF YOU CAN: U.S. ARMY 'PAIN RAY' DEVICEAfter yet another declaration that we were breaking the law, I noticed that the cops were all donning ear packs to muffle sound. Sure enough, a pair of NYPD trucks mounted with black screens had drawn up on our left. I took these for LRADs, long-range acoustic devices known as ‘sonic cannons’ that were developed for the Navy after the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000. One was used against protesters in Pittsburgh in 2009—successfully, as seen on YouTube. Somali pirates block them with headphones.

It was time for an exit strategy but Anna wouldn’t hear of it. “They always do that,” she said. “I’ve seen those trucks before. But not those,” she added, pointing at the Army trucks with the big plates.

The cops began making forays into the crowd, snatching individuals to haul behind their lines. (How long had they been watching these people? Hours? Days? Months?) A platform supporting journalists documenting the protest was clumsily cleared. The police knocked a photographer down. Were they removing witnesses?

Anna was intent on staying. I hadn’t seen her in a week. Her tough little fingers, honed by unrelenting altruism, felt safe in mine. Fate had plunked me in an arena with thousands of defiant leftists I generally disagreed with. I started kissing the one I loved and respected.

The crowd erupted in whoops and jeers. The police were withdrawing. The people pressed hard against the barricades, chanting “shoot the rich,” which probably wasn’t about vaccinating them. Facing us were soldiers, who must have been wearing earphones inside their ear guards. I heard no command when they sliced neatly into the 9/11 Truthers.

No Quarter for American Citizens

I dragged Anna away in my arms as she cursed, appalled at my cowardice. She must have seemed like a victim of police brutality, prompting the crowd to part for us all the way to the rear. I felt like Moses going the wrong way, but it worked. We wound up squinting at the confrontation from a subway entrance. Vigorous chanting resounded among the sunlit skyscrapers as the people defied the state.

Then the rhythm broke into fragments, as if 5,000 folks had run short of breath. There came a giant stomping, churning noise. It was the sound of soldiers charging demonstrators who grunted under blows that echoed like the work of woodcutters.

It was the kind of thing we expect from St. Petersburg or Moscow or Beijing, presented disapprovingly on good ol’ American TV.

Then came horrible piercing sirens and a torrent of screams. The stampede was on.

I pulled Anna down the stairs past a bunch of cops who had missed their cue. We raced to the crosstown shuttle and caught it just as the doors were closing. I looked back to see the police swinging into motion. A middle-aged redhead took a club to her face as our train lurched eastward.

Anna was pretty shattered. To cover my dignity, I’ll call my condition helpless rage.

Videos appear briefly on YouTube under ever-more senseless keywords, lest they be taken down immediately. They show that the cops got to use those sonic cannons and that the Army deployed what turned out to be ‘pain ray’ trucks against the most stubborn protesters. They arrested hundreds, at least. People were fatally crushed.

We were lucky. None of what I saw made sense. Why did the police withdraw? Why did the Army attack? Who was in charge? How many were killed? Who are we supposed to ask? Are inquiries even legal? Or is the law simply irrelevant now?

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