who does the War Against Terror protect?


I was hoping for a leisurely stroll to the Greenmarket in Union Square this afternoon, but seconds after I left the front door of the building I realized this wasn't going to be the usual hunter/gathering experience.

Late this morning the guys returning one of our heavy air conditioners from the repair shop called from their truck to tell us the police weren't allowing them to stop their van in front of our building. Eventually they found a parking place four blocks away and managed to wheel the unit here on a handtruck.

As I found when I stepped into 23rd Street myself later in the day, what they had described was only part of the story. Dozens of police scooters were lined up on the sidewalk only yards from our front door (only by some weird coincidence, I'm sure, exactly in front of the national headquarters of the Communist Party). Just as I had registered the presence of this unusual sidewalk furniture, with the roar of much larger engines a formation of eight motorcyle cops swept down the street toward 8th Avenue.

Then I noticed for the first time the flashing lights visible on all kinds of stationary or moving police and rescue vehicles, all within sight of where I stood.

The street itself was lined with traffic cones where normally vehicles would be parked on both sides, and the center two lanes were also deliniated by lines of cones. Vehicles were prohibited in that area. Regular traffic, including the large articulated buses, was barely crawling along in a single lane in each direction on what had been designed as a six-lane crosstown thoroughfare.

When I walked down 7th Avenue, where "stopping" was also proscribed for the entire week, according to the posted signs, I saw a number of delivery guys sweating in the heat while they hauled goods by hand or handtruck from wherever they had been able to park their vehicles.

At every single intersection I passed as I headed downtown I spotted between four and six city cops. I feigned naivety and asked one open-faced patrolman the question I knew from experience would not get a real answer: Is there some event going on today? He said no, but volunteered, "this is just a security lock zone."


20th Street, the residential street occupied by the headquarters of the Police Department's 10th Precinct, the building itself only about the size of two townhouses and hardly the only feature of the block, was closed to traffic altogether. There were checkpoints at either end of the block.

As I started to step across 19th street a large unmarked black Chevrolet rushed by, its siren doing the familiar New York police or ambulance vehicle "pop pop" employed for anything less than an emergency mission.

When I got to Union Square at first I couldn't see the usual mass of farmers' trucks and stands, there were so many emergency vehicles ringing the Park. I scolded myself for not checking online to see whether the Monday market had been cancelled for our Republican emergency, but then I realized everything was there as usual inside the ring of "security." The entire Park area was swarming with police; there were easily more than a hundred in plain sight.

I hurried through my shopping, taking no pleasure in the business, and, anxious to avoid more depressing encounters with armed aliens, made the unusual decision to return home by Subway rather than on foot.

Big mistake. At first I was too bummed out by what I had been seeing in the street to notice the police presence underground. I was also sweating from the heat and humidity and concerned with avoiding what looked like an imminent thunderstorm, But when I transferred from the L at 8th Avenue I was shocked to see police everywhere. Since I had the time while I waited for the E train, I was able to see that there was precisely one cop on the platform for every two cars, and that these guards seemd to be charged with, among other duties, ducking their heads into each car while the doors remained open in the station. The pattern was repeated at the station on 23rd Street, where I was delighted to be able to exit for home.

It's now late in the evening, six hours after I wrote the paragraphs above. I still haven't run across any terrorists (at least of the private variety), but I just got off the number 1 train at the 23rd Street station down the block from our apartment and I immediately counted 23 police at the street level of the intersection. When I got home our doorman told me that one of my neighbors had just told him there were 30, so it seems I'm not the only one noticing these pod people spread around the city.

I'm convinced that what we're seeing is only the beginning. This kind of governmental response to imagined or real civil threats is both cynical and ineffective, the proper application of the adjectives depending on which alarmists and which planners they are attached to, but the thing will feed on itself; in a climate of fear fed by ignorance we're already seeing that there is no effective way to object to increasing the government's control over our daily lives and our liberties when it invokes the spectre of terror.

What are they protecting, our security or their own? How much longer do they expect us to believe this is all about our safety and not their power? I'm afraid that in the case of too many of us the answer may be "forever."

For more on the neighborhood, look to the second half of this post on Bloggy.

I hope you're wrong but fear you're right.