|Barry Goldstein, photographer||Meet and Greet at the RNC|
||I came to NYC today to photograph events
surrounding the Republican National Convention. A camera is an excellent
entrée into polite society. Two days before the convention even begins, I
meet new friends: two members of the Secret Service, two members of
Homeland Security, and a man with a large dog.
I am photographing police across the street from Madison Square Garden. Unless you've been vacationing on Mars, you know that this is the site of the upcoming Republican National Convention, scheduled to begin in about 48 hours. However, the crowd control gates are already up, cranes are installing concrete barriers in front of the Garden, and police stand in ostentatious clumps wearing baseball caps and automatic weapons. Welcome to the Big Apple.
Despite the obvious precautions, no member of the uniformed NYPD gives the slightest notice of me or my camera, with the exception of a Patrol Officer, who asks me to take his picture with a cute German woman. I'm on a roll. I cross Seventh Ave with a crowd shuttled between barricades to the entrance of Penn Station, directly under the Garden. I pause to take three pictures of a couple of officers by the entrance, and then turn my camera to a pile of riot gear next to them. I meet my new friends. I am approached by two young men in suits and ear mikes, who politely ask what I'm doing.
"Of whom ?"
"The police and events around the RNC."
"But I noticed that you were interested in the riot gear."
"May I ask who you are?"
"Who are you?"
"My name is Barry Goldstein."
"Who are you taking pictures for?"
""Myself, and both online and print venues."
"Do you have credentials?"
"What sort of credentials?"
'Republican National Committee Credentials."
"No, I wasn't aware I needed the RNC's permission to take pictures in
"May I see some ID?"
"Does photographing in the city require credentials and an ID?"
"No sir, but you are required to produce ID when requested by a member
of law enforcement."
"Why are you asking me for ID?"
"Because you were behaving in a suspicious manner."
"What made you suspicious?
"You were taking pictures."
You get the idea. All this is taking place in public, in front of Madison Square Garden, as crowds of passers-by avert their eyes, in case whatever I'm carrying is contagious. By this time I've been flanked by two additional young men with suits accessorized with ear mikes. I ask who these gentlemen are. I'm introduced (although no names are offered). The original fellows are Secret Service. The second two are "Homeland Security". I'm told to watch out for the dog. I turn around. A very large uniformed gentleman is standing behind me holding a very large dog.
Now, I'd like to say I stuck to my guns, (whatever that would entail) but I'm equal mixtures of curious, anxious, and, well, I've suddenly realized that I have to go to the bathroom. So I cave. I hand the first Secret Service fellow my NYU faculty ID, figuring, in true middle-class fashion, that he'll be impressed by the degrees. No such luck. He demands (politely of course) a "government issue" ID. I fork over the driver's license. The youngest secret service man says, "I notice sir, that your hands are shaking. Why is that?" I tell him that, in twenty years, when he's my age, and he's detained by four men and a dog for taking pictures in his home town, his hands will shake too. He excuses himself to "check me out". I question gentlemen two, three and four about what "checking out" entails.
"Just making sure you're not on any lists."
"What sort of lists?"
"I'm afraid I can't say."
OK, I try another tack.
"How long have you been in the secret service?"
"Sir, the Secret Service speaks with One Voice. We are not permitted to
give interviews. You will have to contact the Secret Services public
relations department. I will be happy to give you the number"
"I've been photographing in NYC for a decade now. This is the first time
I've ever been asked to show ID, or been detained in any way, including
on 9-11, when I photographed around ground zero and all over downtown."
(Always play the 9-11 card. We were All New Yorkers then, right?)
"Well sir, had you been behaving in a suspicious manner then, the officers would have been in their rights to detain you."
"I think they had other things on their minds."
"Surely sir, you understand the unique security requirements of this event."
When it's put that way, a few thousand Republicans in NYC is indeed scary.
I ask some questions about fellow number three ("Secret Service," "One Voice"), and fellow number four ("Homeland Security, contact public relations"). I snap a few pics of fellow number one (from the back of course) checking out my driver's license over the radio. After about 20 minutes, I'm told that I'm "free to go." When asked what they found out during this lengthy check, I'm told, "You're just a Regular Joe."
52 years on the planet, and this is the tag I get from the Government ?
A label inspired by reality TV.
Now, this was 20 minutes, not 20 years in a Gulag, and, as I was assured multiple times, these folks were "just doing their job." Nor were they quite the automatons I'm making out on rereading this. For example, Secret Service man number two tells me he was a biology major in college (where did we go wrong?) and even lends me his pen when I can't find mine. He wants to know if I'll write an article ("maybe") and where it will appear (Now why would I tell you that?) But it was just this unfailing politeness that was chilling. These people could afford to be polite. They held all the cards (and my driver's license). The intimidation was no less real for being couched in polite professionalism. And don't forget the dog.