Today I had lunch with friends who live on the Upper West Side, and after walking back to Madison Square Garden I realized how incredibly frightening and police-stateish the whole MSG area is. Walking down 9th Ave, at the corner of 43rd was some sort of Guardsman carrying one of the largest gun I had ever seen and wearing shades, a green beret, and a bulletproof vest.
Luckily for me, all the New Yorkers around me were very volubly talking and laughing about the man with the gun: "Think he's making up for something?" giggled a blonde woman in front of me. "Hey look at that freak!" yelled a guy on a bike. I was surprised how little respect the locals gave to the man with the three foot gun, but as I got closer and closer to the Garden the sheer weight of firearms, men in mirrored sunglasses, handcuffs, and crowds and crowds of cops everywhere was both depressing and intimidating - the catcalls and jokes stopped, and I started to see people stopped by cops. A homeless man was on the steps of Port Authority surrounded by four NYPD and another gun-toting camouflage-clad man; a bike messenger arguing (with four cops) that if cars could go up 9th Ave at 50mph, that he shouldn't have to slow down; a lost confused woman walking into the street in front of oncoming cars being grabbed by two cops.
On my way in through security, the cop who checked my driver's license pulled me aside, but all he wanted was to ask me about New Hampshire and whether or not there were any police vacancies in the towns around Lake Winnepesaukee. After a couple of seconds of complete bewilderment as he waxed poetic about the beauties of the Lakes region, I got over my awe of the incredible random disconnect between the silence and grandeur of the pine forests he was talking about and the police state lockdown on the corner of 34th and 9th, with an estimated 45 policemen around us, wished him luck and tactfully extricated myself from his clutches. I have to wonder why he bothered to stop me - was he trying to be friendly? To put a human face on the security madness? Was he hoping that he had found a kindred spirit in the masses of faceless mirrored sunglasses around him? He said he was just bored, which scared me - surely it can't be a good thing for thousands of bored policemen to be stationed all over the city.
Given what I've seen so far, if there is disorder here, it will be caused by a critical mass of bored and possibly nervous policemen who were probably prepped for massive protest and are now looking for a reason to exist. The people stopped by police today didn't look like wild-eyed neohippies, but New York homeless or mentally ill residents that probably don't handle the presence of so many armed soldiers on their streets terribly well. My solution to keep the police on their toes would be to have fewer police, not more, but I don't really know much about large-scale law enforcement. My feeling of security is always inversely proportional to the number of officers on the streets.