Lethargy in the T. Bay | Harper's Magazine

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[Political Asylum]

Lethargy in the T. Bay


The projection of SWAT power here in Tampa is overwhelming. Local estimates put the security collective at well over 1,000 people, meaning there is one officer for every two delegates in the hall. I’ve spotted members of the Secret Service, the National Guard, the Florida state police, the Tampa police, local sheriffs’ offices, and neighboring-county details. Downtown Tampa was in near-lockdown yesterday morning when Kevin and I tried to claim our credentials. We abandoned our cab ten or fifteen blocks away and walked through a major urban downtown almost entirely emptied out of civilians and populated almost exclusively in their stead by riot police in full battle gear—mace, M9s or Sigs, M16s, thigh packs, radio packs, video cameras. Early reports had said there were to be some 15,000 protesters; perhaps they were detained by the hurricane.

Instead, yesterday was a day of heightened tedium. At one point Kevin and I spotted nine or ten anarchist kids marching down the street shouting obscenities about Romney and Obama. The SWAT teams moved in, many shooting video on their cameras. The anarchists live-streamed the commandos filming them. I took pictures of everyone videotaping everyone else. I’m sorry M. C. Escher wasn’t around to capture all the ouroboric fun.

Prior to the convention, the Tampa police sat down with the ACLU and produced a handy book filled with smart tips for eager anarchists who want “to stay safe”:

  • “Always obey an officer’s lawful orders. You may refuse to answer questions, but you must identify yourself.”
  • “Always remain polite. Never resist.”
  • “Ask, ‘Am I free to go?’”

After milling around for a while, the kids wandered over to a coffee shop where the SWAT team was kicking back, enjoying their venti decaf Americanos and skinny caramel lattés. They offered the protesters some Gatorade, which the kids gratefully accepted, while the rest of us walked off, vaguely disappointed.



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