|The Republicans Are Coming – Make Nice |
Edward I. Koch
Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2004
Note: Ed Koch appears on two TV interviews in New York City this weekend. Regrettably, they both air at the same time: Sunday, Aug. 22 at 6:30 a.m. Eastern time. Take your pick; they are both good.
Gabe Pressman, Channel 4
Marvin Scott, Channel 11
The Republican National Convention will take place in New York City from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2. Demonstrators will picket and denounce the delegates assembled to designate George W. Bush as the Republican nominee for re-election. But those who expect a repeat of the riots that occurred during the 1968 Democratic National Convention will be disappointed. It won't happen.
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Demonstrators know that riot scenes on TV would only add to a Bush margin of victory. The country is divided on many issues, e.g., same-sex marriage, stem-cell research, death penalty, abortion, Iraq, to name just a few, with each side claiming the moral high ground. Overwhelmingly, voters believe those issues should be decided at the ballot box and not by violence.
Violence also will be curtailed by law enforcement. New York City has a well-trained police force of nearly 40,000 and a superb police commissioner in Ray Kelly, who will use the forces at his command to make certain that those bent on violence are frustrated in their efforts and arrested.
I believe that every person who commits an act of violence should receive and serve jail time, the length of which should depend on the nature and extent of the violence.
The rights of demonstrators to be heard and seen by their quarry also will be protected and enforced by the police. The rights of the delegates to perform their functions at the convention will, likewise, be safeguarded.
We are fortunate at this time in the city's history to have a mayor whose hallmark is civility and respect for others. He has shown from his first days in office that he will talk and listen to all who wish to be heard, so long as they, too, are civil and respectful of the rights of others while making their arguments.
New York City has always been the home of demonstrations. When I was mayor, sometimes there were pickets for different causes circling City Hall at the same time. Some demonstrators even slept in City Hall Park. I recall greeting these people at 7:30 a.m. as I entered the building.
Some demonstrators may resort to nonviolent civil disobedience. Acts of civil disobedience have included marching without a permit, blocking traffic, declining to identify oneself to a police officer when stopped for alleged illegal activity, and many similar acts.
We have a statue in Union Square Park honoring Mahatma Gandhi, father of the concept of nonviolent civil disobedience. The statue was erected by the Department of Parks & Recreation during my administration.
Those who choose to commit acts of civil disobedience should know they do so at their own risk and may be prosecuted. In my view, nonviolent acts of civil disobedience that violate the law should be subject to civil fines, escalating with each new act of civil disobedience committed by the same person in the same protest.
I believe the first conviction should carry a $250 fine, the second $500, the third $1,000 and ever higher. There will be violators who expect no fines, pleading their morality and high purpose, and no different than the protagonist in the hoary story of the axe murderer of his two parents who, when asked for a final word before sentencing, said, "Your honor, please, sir, be merciful, I'm an orphan."
If history is a guide, there are judges who will attempt to get rid of criminal cases against protesters quickly by dismissing them in the "interest of justice" or imposing the lightest of sentences. These judges should know that their spinelessness will only encourage the same violators and their supporters to commit other unlawful acts.
Now to the cops. I have said that they are well trained and they are professional. But among 40,000 people, there will always be some miscreants who will disgrace their uniforms and, worse still, damage the reputations of their fellow officers who are doing a good job.
The mayor's office, police officers and firefighters unions are currently at during labor negotiations. The New York Times reports, "'The level of frustration is so high,' said Stephen J. Cassidy, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, 'I can't account for what might happen' during the convention. When asked repeatedly if the two groups would consider striking or taking other labor actions, Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said, 'We will not rule out anything.'"
These threats alone violate both the Taylor Law barring municipal strikes and an agreement signed by all unions, including the municipal unions, to refrain from convention-related strikes. If they continue with these actions or strike in any form, the mayor should seek Taylor Law penalties and an injunction which, if violated, could precipitate huge fines against the unions' treasuries and an end to the union dues check-off.
Recently, the New York Times reported that, following a community meeting, some police officers threatened the mayor's press secretary with shouts of "Eddie, we know where you live!" The individuals who threatened the press secretary should be arrested and tried in the criminal courts and in police administrative tribunals and, upon conviction, cashiered – permanently removed from the police force.
In some Third World countries the police have adopted criminal behavior. We will not tolerate that happening in New York City. The Police Department should not hesitate to call in the FBI to assist them in identifying these officers. The best way, of course, would be for the honest and professional members of the police force to turn them in. I hope they do so and are properly rewarded.
In closing, let me say we want everyone – delegates, demonstrators, police officers and every other New Yorker – to have a wonderful time during the convention. Everyone should know that both delegates and demonstrators will have their liberties protected in New York City – the former to select their candidate, the latter to express their opposition. That's America and that's New York City.
Minnie the Elephant and I recently did a commercial reminding everyone, "The Republicans are coming – make nice." At the end of the convention Minnie and I are expecting to celebrate the success of our efforts. So everybody involved, please – make nice.
Edward I. Koch is the former mayor of New York City. His commentary for Bloomberg radio is republished here. You can hear his weekly radio show by going to www.bloomberg.com/radio.