Wednesday, September 1, 2004

NEW YORK — Demonstrators virtually shut down midtown Manhattan yesterday as thousands converged on one of the city’s main intersections in protest of the Republican National Convention.

Police arrested more than 400 people in numerous encounters across the city, including more than 100 at the former site of the World Trade Center. The total arrest figure since protests began on Friday is about 1,000.

At least a dozen more were arrested at the corner of 34th Street and Broadway, two blocks from Madison Square Garden, where the convention is being held through tomorrow.

Throughout the chaotic evening, sirens merged with the whir of police helicopters overhead. In many incidents, police in riot gear clutching nightsticks were derided by the protesters, who adopted a much angrier tone yesterday than during protests in the past three days.

Several demonstrators were arrested when they lay down in front of traffic heading uptown on Broadway at about 6 p.m., drawing boos and shrieks of hysteria from a crowd that was composed of both anti-Republican protesters and curious tourists and locals.

Witnesses said the group that lay down on the street were part of a contingent from California that had conducted similar actions in San Francisco in 2003.

“They’ll do it again. They were the people who shut down San Francisco,” said Scott Campbell, 23, who arrived Saturday in New York from his home in Oakland, Calif., for the protests.

Police arrested more protesters in a group of about 30 that rode their bikes through rush-hour traffic, further clogging the streets.

The arrests at ground zero came after police ordered those gathered to walk two by two on the sidewalk. They were rounded up with an orange mesh net.

Skirmishes broke out across the city as the night wore on.

“They’re everywhere,” said one officer standing at 34th Street and Broadway, the hub of protest activity all evening. “We’re at one, taking care of things, then we get calls that there’s another problem somewhere else.”

A dozen bicycle police officers pushed a rowdy, chanting group of 40 protesters down a side street, yelling at them and anyone else unfortunate enough to be caught in the area. But the protesters resurfaced 15 minutes later, several blocks away in front of the Madison Hotel.

Hundreds of police converged on the scene and arrested a number of them.

“They chased us down 33rd Street, and then we came over here, and they came to get us,” said Nancy Kaplan, 43, from Brooklyn, who was with the group but escaped arrest. “The cops were going crazy and took you down even if you weren’t protesting.”

The day was planned by a collective of groups as a day of disorder, with sketchy plans for meeting or action. None of the groups involved had the needed march or rally permits. Some of them began in Union Square, a traditional place in Lower Manhattan for political expression.

In planning memos, a movement calling itself the A31 Action Coalition promised to “turn the streets of NYC into stages of resistance and forums for debate.”

The debate also included pushing and shoving from overly aggressive protesters, who castigated police and booed the buses full of delegates as they made their way through the jammed streets toward the Garden.

As one bus inched through the traffic, delegates inside held up a “Bush/Cheney ‘04” sign, prompting catcalls from protesters wearing shirts that read: “Four more years, four more wars, vote Kerry.”

Tourists, clutching Nine West and Gap bags, turned surly as well as the sidewalks became impassable. Some onlookers climbed up on top of phone booths to get a view of the standoff between the helmeted officers and the protesters.

New York’s 37,000 police officers have been mobilized in every possible fashion, from motor scooters to bread vans. In some cases, horseback patrols have made arrests, and in others, the scooters have been pushed against surging crowds.

More protests are planned for the next two days, with another major demonstration planned for tomorrow night, when President Bush formally accepts the Republican presidential nomination.

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