Police, Activists Say Changes in Tactics, Perspectives Help Bottle Protests
NEW YORK – Police guarding the World Economic Forum had the streets around the Waldorf-Astoria hotel mostly to themselves Sunday as few protesters braved chilly winds to vent their frustrations at the international business and political leaders inside.
A day after about 7,000 activists for various causes massed near the hotel, the only large group was about 150 yellow-scarved members of the spiritual group Falun Gong, whose protest was aimed at the Chinese government's crackdown on their movement. Gathered at a designated protest area two blocks from the Waldorf, they exercised to taped music, chatted with police and handed out leaflets.
One of the few incidents of property destruction came late Sunday afternoon about a mile to the north. Protesters in an animal rights march heading toward the hotel smashed a glass door and threw a balloon filled with red paint at an apartment building. Police halted the march, which had grown to 200 people, but let it start up again.
Police later took 67 of the protesters into custody after some lay down in an intersection about 15 blocks from the Waldorf and refused to move. Officers halted the march and dispersed the activists.
Earlier in the day, police said they arrested 87 activists for disrupting traffic by marching in the street on the Lower East Side, about 3 miles from the hotel. They were charged with disorderly conduct.
Before Sunday, police had arrested 46 people in the first three days of the forum, which has been free of violence that has accompanied protests at international summits in recent years.
Police and protesters say changes in tactics and perspectives have kept the streets peaceful.
In the days before the forum, police made a public display of their crowd-control training, and newspapers trumpeted the security measures with front-page headlines calling midtown an "Armed Camp." The city braced for the worst, assigning 4,000 officers to forum security.
"People were more afraid — it was such a show of force. And now that there has been conflict at several of these types of events, I think police have a lot more leeway to use that force," said one activist, Alabama Evers, 19, who wore the characteristic black and red of the anarchy movement.
Protesters also said the Sept. 11 terror attacks changed perspectives.
"After Sept. 11, I think people are seeing cops in a different light," said Robert Wing, 19, who said he had attended major protests against international economic meetings in Seattle and Genoa, Italy, both the scenes of extensive rioting. "Instead of people thinking the police are against us, I think people now realize that that's not the case."
Police also made a point of letting protesters gather near the hotel, allowing them to be seen and heard by forum participants.
In other cities, "people cannot even get close to the venue and make their voices heard," said Deputy Inspector Matthew Pontillo, who oversaw the downtown police command center over the weekend.