Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Takin' it to the streets

It's only 1:00 pm, and I've already had a long day. This morning I heard a panel convened by former APHA president Barry Levy on social justice and the Katrina disaster, then I went to a panel on U.S. food and nutrition policy. The room capacity was 79 and here we were, the American Public Health Association, violating fire safety policy by packing about 150 people in there. So now you know what's hot in public health these days. I'll have plenty to say about it, but first I have a more pressing issue.

A man who fraudulently pretends to be president of the United States just got done speaking at the World Affairs Council a few blocks away from the Convention Center. You already know where I was -- across the street with the protesters. The police tried to pen us in to a tiny free speech zone with barricades, but once the free speech zone was full, people kept showing up and since they were standing on a public sidewalk, they ended up staying there. Broad St. was closed to traffic, but the cops wouldn't let anybody stand in the street, so it was like the subway at rush hour. Police in plain clothes, with no badges showing but wearing police armbands, lined the sidewalk staring grimly at the protesters. This crowd was not professional protesters. There was not a Workers World or ISO flyer in sight. These were just plain folks, all ages, all colors. A lot of union members in fact -- communication workers, SEIU.

A man a few feet away from me was drinking iced tea from a bottle when a police man waded into the crowd and started to arrest him. Seriously. Evidently there was some sort of rule that protesters weren't allowed to have bottles, but I assume this guy didn't know about it. I certainly didn't. Another man, whose three year old son was riding on his shoulders, tried to intercede, when the cop pushed him roughly away and nearly knocked the child to the ground. People surged foward to save the child, whereupon police started wading into the crowd with their batons raised. The scene turned ugly, police shoving people aside and throwing punches. They finally dragged the guy with the iced tea away and into a van. His mother started pleading with them, but they wouldn't let her near him. The guy is African American, as was the guy with the little kid. (So were at least half the cops, by the way.) I introduced his mother to an eyewitness who is a Philly resident and will still be around, and he promised to help her. I'll read the Inquirer tomorrow and if they file any charges in this case, I'll let you know.

This is pretty typical of protests these days. The police show up looking for trouble, and they make sure they get what they want. There wouldn't have been any trouble at all if there hadn't been any police on the scene. As far as I'm concerned, they should have turned around and faced the Bellevue along with the crowd. They're honest American folks too (or at least we hope so), and that means we're on the same side. Or at least we ought to be.

(There you go Whisker, I was there.)

Okay. Lots more to come about the convention.

No comments: