New York protest blocks Fifth Ave.

215 demonstrators arrested in incidents throughout the city

War In Iraq

March 28, 2003|By John J. Goldman | John J. Goldman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NEW YORK - Anti-war protesters chanting "Peace Now!" blocked Fifth Avenue in front of Rockefeller Center during yesterday morning's rush hour and by evening police had arrested 215 demonstrators in that and other incidents.

The symbolic "die-in" at Rockefeller Center was designed to show support for Iraqi war victims. Later, members of the same coalition staged a mock funeral on Fifth Avenue while a dozen people tried to block the main entrance to Tiffany's several blocks north of the larger demonstration.

Five protesters were arrested during a brief scuffle outside the offices of CNN in Manhattan.

Organizers of an ad hoc coalition labeling itself M27 called for civil disobedience throughout the city.

Police were well prepared for the Fifth Avenue protest during which activists lay down on the avenue, blocking traffic including several buses crowded with people trying to get to work in midtown offices.

"Hey-hey, ho-ho, Bush's war has to go," some of the demonstrators shouted.

Police had set up barricades in an effort to contain the demonstrators on the sidewalk, and a police helicopter circled overhead to help coordinate arrests.

Some of the protesters sprawled on towels and mats they unfolded to cushion the hardness of the street.

Occasionally, the demonstrators were heckled by a handful of people supporting the war.

A man held up a sign reading "Traitors, have you forgotten Sept. 11?" and there were brief arguments about the propriety of U.S. action in Iraq.

But police had little difficulty in keeping people with opposing views apart.

In calling for the demonstration - patterned after much larger anti-war actions in San Francisco - organizers said they selected Fifth Avenue in front of Rockefeller Center because it is the home of media outlets and large corporations, some of which could profit from rebuilding Iraq.

Protesters charged the war was "setting the stage for a humanitarian disaster of untold proportions."

Newsday reported that at an anti-war "teach-in" Wednesday night, a Columbia University professor called for the defeat of American forces in Iraq and said he would like to see "a million Mogadishus" - a reference to the Somali city where American soldiers were ambushed, with 18 killed, in 1993.

"The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military," Nicholas De Genova, assistant professor of anthropology at Columbia University, told the audience at Low Library, according to the paper's account. "I personally would like to see a million Mogadishus."

The crowd was largely silent at the remark. They loudly applauded De Genova later when he said, "If we really [believe] that this war is criminal ... then we have to believe in the victory of the Iraqi people and the defeat of the U.S. war machine."

At least two speakers who followed De Genova distanced themselves from his comments. One of them was teach-in organizer Eric Foner, a history professor, who disagreed with De Genova's assertion that Americans who called themselves "patriots" also were white supremacists.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Foner went further in his criticism, calling De Genova's statements "idiotic."

"I thought that was completely uncalled for," Foner said, referring to De Genova's allusion to the Mogadishu ambush and firefight, portrayed in the film Black Hawk Down and known for the graphic image of a slain American soldier being dragged through the streets. "We do not desire the deaths of American soldiers."

Foner said that because of the university's tradition of freedom of speech it was unlikely De Genova would suffer professionally in any way because of what he said.

"A person's politics have no impact on their employment status here, whether they are promoted, whether they are fired, or whether they get tenure," Foner said.

The applause at De Genova's call for defeat of U.S.-led forces in Iraq reflected widespread frustration at the inability to reverse President Bush's Middle East policies, Foner said.

"A kind of flamboyant statement like that will get an applause in the heat of the moment," the history professor said.

John J. Goldman is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune publishing newspaper. This story also contains information from Newsday.

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