After every protest in New York City, it seems, there are protests.
Yesterday was no exception. At a news conference, the organizers of Saturday's demonstration against war with Iraq showed a videotape of the police using pepper spray on penned-in people, backing horses into crowds, going after demonstrators with their nightsticks and forcing people back with metal barricades. "That makes you feel good, doesn't it?" one officer could be heard saying about the pepper spray.
The police were quick to point out that the seven-minute video was edited. It was impossible to tell whether the officers had been provoked, although the tape did show people surging against barricades and in some cases trying to lift them out of the way.
The tape, which was produced by the Independent Media Center, a loose international collective that says it provides "noncorporate coverage" and "passionate tellings of truth," was edited down from 40 hours of mostly amateur video that was turned over to the center.
In one scene an officer catches up to a man who is walking, appears to hit him with a nightstick, and the man falls. When others move toward the fallen man, they are met with pepper spray in the face.
"This is some of the most brutal stuff that we have," said Justin Lipson, who edited the tape.
Leslie Cagan, the co-chairwoman of United for Peace and Justice, the umbrella group that coordinated the New York protest and dozens of others around the globe, called for the resignation of Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.
City Councilman Bill Perkins, the chairman of the Council's government operations committee, speaking at the news conference at the Midtown headquarters of United for Peace and Justice, said he would hold hearings on the handling of the rally.
Ms. Cagan said she believed an order had come from "higher up" to make things difficult for the protesters, beginning with city's denial of a permit to march.
The Police Department and the mayor cited the low number of injuries and arrests for an event this size. The police estimated the attendance at 100,000, but organizers said the rally drew half a million, including those who they said were prevented from reaching the rally site near the United Nations.
The police, who spent $5 million on overtime that day, revised the number of arrests and summons downward to 274, from 292, counting 49 people arrested hours after the rally near 39th Street and Fifth Avenue.
A member of the Police Department's Civilian Complaint Review Board said that roughly 30 complaints of police misconduct had been filed by yesterday afternoon, including allegations of protesters being "corralled," punched, pushed to the ground and trampled by police horses.
"Not everybody was happy about the way the police controlled the crowds," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a news conference in Brooklyn, before the protesters showed the video at their news conference. "But they kept this city safe, and people that wanted to protest certainly had the ability to do so. Maybe not as much as they'd like, but given that this is a dangerous world, I thought the Police Department did an excellent job at balancing the rights of people to say what they want to say with the needs of all of us, and of them, to provide security for everybody."
Advertisements for the event said it would be at 49th Street and First Avenue, but the stage was actually at 51st Street, and the crowd extended for more than 20 blocks northward.
As the blocks near the stage filled, the police barricaded side streets and told people on Second and Third Avenues to move north. Some reported that they were ultimately sent back south or directed to take routes that were blocked off or led away from the rally.
Such confusion increased tensions on both sides and contributed to the notion that the police were purposefully keeping people from the rally, a charge the police denied.
Michael P. O'Looney, the chief spokesman for the Police Department, issued a written statement. "Force was used by the police as a last resort," it read. "Some of the frustration over access to the protest area may have been avoided had the organizers done a better job of communicating that they moved the stage," he said.
The video showed some clashes in Second and Third Avenues. "There were horses that were turned around and backed into crowds, there were horses that were taken onto the sidewalk," said Rebekah Wolf, with the People's Law Collective, who was one of the legal observers monitoring arrests. "There was not a single arrest that I saw that was not violent."
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company