Sept. 5, 2004
Customer service
Orange County's best source for local information Subscribe Now! OC Car Finder OC Job Finder OC Real Estate Finder
Welcome, egarris2!
Browse past 7 days
Advanced search
Car | Job | Home | More
> Place an ad
 • Newspaper ads
 • Coupons
 • Buy our photos
 The print edition online
 Weekly newspapers
Community news
Noticias en Espaņol
Interactive tools
Discussion boards
Financial tools
Get a map
Get directions
Make this my
home page
Movie times
Place a classified ad
Puzzles & games
Yellow pages
About us
Advertise with us
Contact us
Customer service
Register in education
Site feedback
Subscribe today
Media partners

Sunday, September 5, 2004

Fortress New York
Be careful what you wish for: The city's convention set-up might be the model for real homeland security.

More on the convention and the 2004 election

Columnist, The Orange County Register

NEW YORK - At the GOP convention podium, Republican speakers urged delegates and TV viewers to re-elect President George W. Bush because he is best able to protect us from the terrorists who are bound and determined to kill our families and destroy our freedoms.

In and around Midtown Manhattan, convention-goers got a taste of life in a society where the overriding goal is to stop attacks at all costs. It was the bitter taste of losing one's freedoms, albeit in this case for the short duration of this national convention.

It was Fortress New York. For those of us with the proper papers - a neck-load of colored and numbered badges and IDs granting entry to Madison Square Garden and surrounding sites - the anti-terror lockdown meant endless annoyances, hassles and humiliations. For those who tried to protest the convention goings-on, things were worse.

From CBS 2 News in New York: "Some protesters have complained bitterly about conditions at the temporary holding area set up by police at Pier 57 in Chelsea for processing convention-related arrests. One former detainee ... claimed he was held there for hours on end in 'Guantanamo-style pens' - a reference to the U.S. military facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."

After experiencing the goings-on at the convention center and all around the city, I am left with a sobering conclusion: I would rather live unprotected from terrorist attacks than in a society that resembled New York City during convention week.

Everywhere I went, scores of police officers in riot gear, gun-toting military officials, blue-suited secret-service officials with their ears wired and assorted private security guards were on call, watching us. Metal cattle gates prodded us to the proper place. Streets were cordoned off, sidewalks open only to those who show the right ID.

Sirens were constantly wailing.

I tired of the daily hassle of getting into the Marriott Marquis, the Times Square hotel where the California delegation was staying. Even though it is a dozen blocks from the convention site, the security was stiff. Two police officers manned a checkpoint at the sidewalk, while 10 or more police stood beside their motorcycles. At the checkpoint, all guests had to show their room key or photo ID.

Then, about 50 feet nearer the door was another checkpoint, where security guards checked the ID once again. The area between the checkpoints was surrounded by metal barricades, so there was no possible way that anyone could have sneaked in between those checkpoints, unless they jumped out of a suitcase. Don't expect reason to prevail in a police state.

From Checkpoint No. 2, hotel guests went another 15 feet or so into the front door, where two burly security guards again checked the same ID. At the lobby area, one had to again show ID to enter the elevator area, where one could finally get back to the room.

The guards didn't want to hear any grumbles. One doesn't question procedures in a police state.

The entire city operated in a similar way. The elaborate procedures kept changing day by day, depending on the particular authority who was handling any given checkpoint. One day, we were ordered - in typical, New York-blunt style - to turn on our computers before placing them into the X-ray machine. The next day, the guard barked: "You don't need to turn on your computer if it's going through the X-ray."

Whatever. In a police state, one does what one's told. One doesn't argue, even on the occasions when the guards were the ones with the wrong information about proper credentials.

In a police state, every functionary has a tiny bit of authority. Many functionaries are pleasant and polite, just doing a job and following orders. Others are power-mad creeps, who use that authority to put anyone who looks at them funny through unfair hassles.

No matter how thorough the plan, the rules aren't always clear to those of us who must abide by them. There's no due process; you do what you're told lest you end up on Pier 57 with the kooky protesters. It will get cleared up eventually - after you've slept on a concrete floor for two days and missed all of your deadlines.

One colleague mistakenly entered the wrong sidewalk area. One of New York's Finest yelled at him, "Yo, get offa da sidewalk." "Where am I supposed to go?" my friend asked. "Across da street!" As he crossed the street, the cop patrolling that area yelled at him to get offa da street. You can't win in a police state. But you dare not disobey the incomprehensible orders.

At the protest march last Sunday, police didn't let the press near the protesters. They stood as the thick, blue line separating us from them. I was unthreatening: well dressed, properly credentialed, in the proper place. But when I opened my sport jacket and reached for my cell phone on my belt, I looked up at a police officer who stared at me, acting as if I were drawing a gun.

Had he made a mistake and shot me, most people would have said, "That's too bad, but it was an honest mistake." The story would have been buried deep within the newspaper. That's how things go in a police state. The police are right; the victims must have brought it on themselves.

Now, most of the officers who checked our badges were professional and polite, and sometimes downright friendly. One night, in lower Manhattan, our group of lost convention-goers asked a cop for advice on a good bar. He walked us to an Irish pub, introduced us to the barkeep, and we were treated like royalty the entire night.

That's how police states operate, also: If you are friends with the right official, you get privileges.

Strangely enough, many people easily accommodate themselves to a world of checkpoints, meddling, barricades and ID-showing. Many of the convention-goers and media were ingratiating and openly thankful to the men and women who were searching them, prodding them and demanding papers.

It made me passive-aggressive. I always showed the wrong side of the room key to the third Marriott guard, just to yank his chain. I was polite, but the resentment built up. That's what happens to some people when they are constantly bossed around.

Whenever I criticize intrusive government actions or misbehavior by police or federal agents, someone will say: "If you didn't do anything wrong, you don't have anything to fear." Well, I certainly didn't do anything wrong as I obediently navigated the inconsistent and intrusive security rules that governed life at the GOP convention last week, but I would greatly fear a world that operated in a similar way.

By the way, despite the creation of a fortress, the New York Daily News reported significant breaches in security, as delegates handed out unused badges. An uncredentialed reporter was inside the arena, listening to the vice president's speech, within five hours. So even with a police state, there's no guarantee of safety.

Life is a risk. As Benjamin Franklin said, those who trade away their freedom for a little security deserve neither.

CONTACT US: or (714-796-7823
Copyright 2004 The Orange County Register | Privacy policy | User agreement
Freedom communications Freedom Communications, Inc.