Friday, June 22, 2007

The un-Mighty Quinn

Further on from yesterday's discussion about how power always corrupts:

I guess you might have had to be gay to really get it. The insecurity and uncontrollable suspicion with which I began to meet each person's eyes was something I had never felt before in America. Tinged with true rage, it was interfering with my ability to get through my day. I know in hindsight that a good deal of that response was due to some rather selective manipulation by the press, but all the same, in the wake of the
Matthew Shepard murder in 1998, I needed to feel secure again. That's why, when I saw a flyer in the East Village for a makeshift vigil, I grabbed a friend and headed up to the Plaza Hotel on 59th Street to see if hearing and seeing other people who were similarly affected might bring me some comfort or resolution.

What organizers predicted might draw about 500 people or so, and was always intended to be a solemn and dignified affair, turned into bedlam when thousands showed up and eventually began marching down Fifth Avenue. Ninety-six people were arrested that night. Me and my friend were nearly among them (the police swept up the man right behind us as we were trying to move onto the sidewalk). It was chaotic, it locked up traffic for hours, I believe some vandalism occurred, but I slept like a baby that night. Seeing all those people, gay and straight, turn out to share the same fears, sense of loss, and unity was very reassuring.

Now I understand that the police were caught unaware by the size of the crowd (so were those of us who turned up). I understand that traffic was disrupted and people in their cars were equally upset and frightened (we witnessed one stuck driver grab a tire iron out of this trunk and threaten to beat the passersby touching [out of necessity] his car). It was in many ways ugly (along with hundreds of others, we were trapped by the police between two streets at one intentional divide-and-conquer strategy aimed also at calming us down). But the thing was, most of the bedlam was the result of folks trying to comply with the Police's inconsistent and/or impossible instructions (how can you get up on the sidewalk when there's no room?).

All in all, it was one of the most memorable nights of my life and I awoke the next day feeling much, much better about America. I went from fearing any stranger I encountered and feeling I was isolated to believing Shepard's murderers were the ones who had better be afraid. There was unquestionably strength in numbers.

I inflict this tale upon you to make clear why I feel what New York City Speaker
Christine Quinn (the first openly gay City Speaker in New York's history) has arranged / approved of / conspired with the NYPD to permit is treachery at its most foul. From James Wagner:
Quinn was the civilian agent for a secretly-negotiated agreement (there were no public hearings) with the NYPD which gives the police full authority to restrict public assembly and public speech (if more than 49 people get together anywhere, under any circumstances, they are all subject to arrest - unless they have applied to the police for a permit ahead of time and have received the department's approval). This policy was never submitted to the Council for consideration; no statute supports this agreement and practice; it is the creation of the Speaker herself.
I chose my story of public assembly (I've attended others) specifically because that time things got out of hand. That time things led to the sort of situation that, if I'm charitable, I suppose Quinn might feel she's working to prevent. The thing is, though, that night was one of the most powerful/meaningful nights of my life. No one got killed, no one was permanently scarred, no significant property damage occurred. What happened was the people, yes THE PEOPLE, took to the streets to let the city, and country, and world know that they were not going to be afraid. What Quinn has signed off on is not only unAmerican to my mind, it's inhumane in its design to squelch the impulse to seek comfort in numbers in times of tragedy.

Imagine if Christine Quinn had been the Speaker in Madrid after the bombings there, when in the hours after the blasts, tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Spain in a spontaneous outpouring of pain and grief. This later, un-permitted event involving millions would also have been an illegal gathering in Quinn's Madrid:

What the Spanish did was awe-inspiring. In response to terrorists, they took to the street and let the world know they would not be afraid. We in New York, where we live under the threat of another attack constantly, would be arrested for responding in kind.

Seriously, Speaker Quinn, what the hell have you reduced us to with your Nanny-state meddling? Things sometimes get out of hand. Democracy is messy. Get used to it.

James Wagner's post has images of people trying to get her to account for her betrayal (she was an activist herself before power corrupted her). She has refused to meet with folks who've asked her, despite her assurances that she'll talk with anyone. She had better start talking before the next elections. She had better reconsider her position and fast.

Labels: New York, politics


Anonymous barry said...

Great post, Ed. Actually one of the reasons the Matthew Shepard march got a bit chaotic was that the NYPD reacted very badly and arrested marshalls and other people trying to keep things organized at the very beginning of the march. I have some photos and notes here:

6/22/2007 12:27:00 PM  
Anonymous pp said...

There are perhaps many different Europes. When US went in, in our small EU newcomer country, some art people wanted to .. after "a talk" security police, dropped the idea. No public display of been against war, since...

6/22/2007 12:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quinn should be ashamed of herself. Where did she study public policy, at the Bush Administration?

6/22/2007 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Check out


for more on the new police law and how we can put forward more sensible legislation.

6/22/2007 04:08:00 PM  

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