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Lockdown in Beantown

Fort Boston: Freedom Sidelined

With “free-speech zones” in Boston fencing demonstrators into chain-link pens, America has lost its innocence. Greater Boston has never been less free, with every person a suspect, every individual a terrorist. Police intimidation, it seems, is the priority; with actual security just a thin cosmetic veneer, a side-show for the media.


Lockdown in Beantown    

Barbed wire keeps free speech zones "contained." This worked for Pinochet too, at least for a while.

Fort Boston: Freedom Sidelined

[July 27, 2004 evote.com]  During this week of the Democratic National Convention, Boston has morphed into the Banana Republic of Boston, and the War on Terror seems to have firmly reached Beantown, without even a shot being fired.

Although most of the Democratic delegates would vehemently insist America is still a free country, Boston this week has all the trappings of totalitarianism.

With extreme levels of security ostensibly to guard against a terrorist attack, everyone is viewed as a criminal. All are considered potentially violent. Police intimidation is ubiquitous. This is a war zone. The terrorists have already won, with Al Qaeda laughing from their caves in Afghanistan.

Trucks are pulled over under questionable legality to briefly look in the cargo area, with the driver then sent on his way. A journalist resting on a bridge is watched closely by a Massachusetts State Police Officer in a car, and then by several in a boat underneath. A man opens a brief case on a public sidewalk blocks away from the Fleet Center and is questioned by police. “Are you waiting for a bus,” the officer asks in a thinly disguised interrogation.

Blatant audial harassment by the secret service and police is common, with delegates and journalists searched extensively upon entering the building. Even bottled water is prohibited -- you never know what form Ricin will take, do you?

No Protest on This Watch
But no where else is the intimidation by the police greater than during the very small protests that occurred Monday. About 25 college-age demonstrators from a variety of anti-authoritarian organizations, including a Massachusetts offshoot of the Green Party called the Green-Rainbow Party, staged a completely non-violent, innocent and constitutionally-protected protest during the afternoon.

About 36 Boston Police Officers on motorcycles shadowed the group -- about one and a half cops for each marcher.

And march they did. The tiny group of demonstrators was forced to move from one spot to another because the police told them their permit required them to keep moving down the street, to their surprise.

But Robert Dunford, a police superintendent at the march, was overheard saying, "I just didn’t want them to get the idea they could stop anywhere.”

When a journalist read Dunford's name tag and wrote down the information on it, the officer walked closely by the man, an attempt at intimidation. One officer expressed concerned about the two bags he was carrying, as it could be a bomb, suddenly informing him he could not leave them unattended.

In fact, marchers were not allowed to carry signs held up by poles, ride bicycles during the protest, or set up tables to hand out literature because they could be used as weapons (paper cuts can be deadly, in the right hands, perhaps).

During the small protest, a helicopter stayed still overhead and was so close its noise drowned out whatever anyone was yelling. Make that one and half cops per marcher, plus one helicopter and thirty-six motorcycles, and a couple of supervisors.

Overkill of this extreme is intimidation, and isn't even thinly veiled intimidation at that.

The only demonstrators that weren't harrassed by the cops this week were the police themselves

Class B Felony: Eating While Holding Controversial Views
Even eating food has become a concern for the police. At 7:00 PM Monday, a dozen anti-authoritarian individuals from the Bl(A)ck Tea Society (BTS), an umbrella group for many protest groups, decided to perform the seditious act of eating dinner in Boston’s Copley Square. No one was protesting anything, just eating outside on a perfect night from food passed out from two coolers.

Then out of nowhere, four Boston Police cruisers swarmed and a dozen cops got out and lined the sidewalk. Nothing really much was done or said by the police, but the sudden appearance of the local security forces terrified these would-be diners.

They police left after just a few minutes, with a cop telling EVOTE.COM that he “did not see them as a threat and that he was there because he was assigned to be there.”

One of the al fresco diners was seen quickly leaving the scene, saying this was a “scary situation for me.” A legal advisor to the group later stated that the security forces' purpose was to “intimidate.”

Frank Little, a 29-year-old organizer of the BTS from Cambridge, MA, who works as an actuary, says it is blatant political harassment. “They do not like our political opinions. That is why they are harassing us. It’s all about power. The entire security situation is such bullshit. Obviously we are not here to hurt anyone.”

The Big Dig (forefront) and the convention at the Fleet Center have made for lots of overtime money in Boston law enforcement pockets

Working Overtime to Run the Security Gravy Train
One possible explanation for the hyper-sensitive DNC security has nothing to do with terrorism, but rather paychecks.

Massachusetts politicians are no stranger to playing the security card in order to line their pockets. For instance, they encouraged and allowed the extreme escalation in the cost of building the Big Dig highway construction project, which ballooned from $2.5 billion to more than $14 billion. While much of the increase was due to a series of questionable and occasionally blatantly illegal expense padding schemes, one of the most lucrative components was the creation of thousands of no-show and do-nothing police-details, ostensibly to do crowd control and traffic management.

In a similar vein these politicians have seen all the money the Federal government and corporate donors are paying to hold the DNC convention, and they also see the opportunity to help their special-interest groups and constituents. The security forces in and around Boston -- local, state, and federal -- are making tremendous amounts of extra overtime money guarding the Fleet Center, which means standing around doing nothing and looking tough.

Citizen-Units Not So Happy
And with all the road closures, driven by the security measues, many Bostonians have left the city this week, greatly unconvinced as to their need, but knowing when it's time to get out of town.

Boston is a ghost town of the most extraordinary sort -- the ghosts have packed and left, leaving behind the invading New Politburo of partying delegates and a skeleton-crew citizenry that is keeping the bare machinary of city life still humming, albeit at a vastly-reduced volume.

Cabbies are making about the same as usual, and many retail stores and restaurants are taking in much less. Some restaurants have actually closed down, including ones across the street from the Fleet Center itself. (One eatery, closing down in disgust, hung a pro-Bush banner in its window and thanked the DNC for running them out of town for the week. Boston city officials threatened to fine the restaurant for expressing its opinion, but relented at the last minute when their position became politically untenable.)

And the Boston Globe, trying to beat the drum for Boston tourism, has been running a series of feature articles that cheerily announce the impact of the Convention as "not as bad as predicted" and trumpeted the availability of easy parking in Downtown Boston. Self-delusion apparently extends to Boston's local media, as well as its security apparatus.

Perhaps the War on Terror isn't lost yet; after all, there are a lot of other American cities that haven't succumbed yet. But chalk up Boston in the "win" column for the terrorists.

[John Pike is a veteran journalist based in Boston. He has been a guest commentator on many radio stations and his articles have appeared in numerous magazines, newspapers and web sites, including the Boston Globe, Reason Magazine, Insight Magazine, Access Magazine and the Associated Press. He is glad those with unusual ideas have the internet to express their views and no longer must depend so heavily on shouting. He can be reached at pike@evote.com.]

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