eyes were on Jonathan Shapiro, the dapper, white-haired lawyer representing the
Black Tea Society, as the Dowbrigade quietly slipped into
the last row of the half-filled courtroom. This was yesterday afternoon,
at the Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston, and Judge Woodlock was presiding
over a hearing concerning the request by Black Tea Society and other
groups protesting the Democratic National Convention) for an injunction
preventing the City of Boston from forcing them in a Steel Cage Death
Match in order to express their disagreements with the priorities and party
platform of the Democrats attending the Convention.
We were coming from the private chambers of William
G. Young, the Chief United States District Judge, who had been patiently
explaining the roles of the various players in the Federal District
Court to a group of 48 foreign lawyers undergoing an accelerated indoctrination
to the US Legal System as part of their LLM program. Although an incredibly
busy man, Judge Young takes his role as a teacher of the law to the
core of his judicial philosophy and seems to spend all his time teaching
it to juries, lawyers, court personnel and in an act of true generosity,
to all sorts of students, from grade school groups to young lawyers
like the Dowbrigade’s charges.
At any rate, Mr. Shapiro, a dapper though diminutive
presence in a superbly tailored blue suit, who managed to simultaneously
project an intense energy and a restrained decorum, kept using the
describe the penned-in area under a freeway overpass, behind the train
station, where the protesters were supposed to be contained. These
charged words, especially from a guy named Shapiro, were riveting.
The protestors argued that the specially designated
protest zone, which features double chain-link fences, razor wire on
top to make sure nobody can climb the fence or climb up on the train
tracks, anti-splatter shields to make sure protesters can’t squirt
any vile or toxic liquids on any delegates who dared to get near their
cage, and a tight nylon netting, fine enough to stop a hockey puck
(or a hand grenade), over the entire top of this cage to insure that
nothing can be thrown out of the cage, constitutes a virtual concentration
camp, and not only will discourage protesters from exercising their
right to protest, but represents a scandalous insult to the American
political system. Shapiro compared it to something you would expect
to find at Guantanamo Bay or in a Zoo.
"Groups will not degrade themselves to this degree
in order to express their legitimate points of view," he declared.
"Existence of that area ina nd of itself is a violation of the 1st
The City, represented by a trim businesslike woman
in a smart suit and a clipped tone, argued that due to the high level
of pre-convention rhetoric and the need for heightened security after
9/11, combined with a proven history of violent protest at Democratic
Party Conventions, including the last one in 2000, it is necessary
to put the protesters in a contained, secure zone.
The City also mentioned that they had removed the
originally planed toilets from the site as a security precaution,
and that just eliminating the cage was not an option because there
were 30 to 40 separate groups scheduled to use the small stage and
sound system already installed.
Finally, after an hour-long recess, the Judge came
back with his decision. Although he deplored the look and feel
of the area (he used the phrase "internment camp" instead of the more
volatile "Concentration camp") he said that 9/11 and the recent destructive
anti-G9 protests made precautions like this necessary.
Further diminishing the chances for any real meaningful demonstrations,
he lowered the number of protestors allowed into the cage at any one
time from 4,000 to 1,000. And, of course, there are no alternative locations
anywhere near the convention.
"There really isn’t any other place to go," he
said to Shapiro and the groups he represents. "You’re stuck under
Well, build a Zoo and the animals will come. We
suspect the Dowbrigade will be spending some time down at the Zoo,
especially if the animals start acting up. The last time we had
any truly interesting (although tragic) action at a Democratic Convention
in Chicago, and we all know what went down there. Of course, chances
are if there are any real confrontations, they won’t take place
here. However, between the protests on in and about the stell cage, and the Boston Police union’s determination to picket all sorts of convention events, it is starting to look as though the most interesting stories will be developing outside of the Fleet Center, on the mean streets of Boston.