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Thursday, September 24, 2009

For Patrick Dowd, protest was a civics lesson

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 2:25 PM

[Editor's note: This will be our last post today. Thanks for reading ... and very special thanks to Charlie Deitch, Marty Levine, Bill O'Driscoll and Chris Young. While I spent most of the day up here in the office, tweeting and eating bon-bons, these guys were dashing through clouds of tear gas today.] 

For some, today's unpermitted march in Lawrenceville has been an assault on law and order. For others, it was a chance to voice full-throated opposition to the global order. 

For city councilor Patrick Dowd, it was a chance to teach his three eldest children -- Mackenzie (12), Will (10),  and Quinn (7) -- a civics lesson. 

Dowd wanted his kids to see a protest -- and, he candidly admits, "I was curious too". So he brought them to Arsenal Park, where today's unpermitted march began. 

At one point, Dowd said, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Arsenal Park rushed at a phalanx of 50 officers -- "and I thought, 'This is the moment.' I don't think the protesters had any evil intent, but it scared the hell out of me. The protesters were within spitting distance, and they were yelling at them," Dowd adds. "But the police did not escalate. They were totally silent, and they didn't pull out their tear gas or anything like that." 

Dowd had especially high praise for Commander George Trosky, who Dowd says "showed amazing restraint. One protester was standing in front of him, yelling at him with a bullhorn when Trosky was looking right at him. And Trosky just turned away." Dowd says he's telling Trosky's boss, public safety director Mike Huss, how commendably the commander performed. (Such praise will be all the sweeter, since Trosky took some lumps lumps from City Council when he was promoted: He'd faced accusations of domestic violence and excessive use of force at a 1989 Grateful Dead show.) 

Dowd says protesters eventually backed away from the confrontation, and began the march by exiting the park from the 39th Street side. 

Dowd followed the ensuing action at a distance, in part because he wanted to see for himself whether protesters were doing any damage to neighborhood property. (He says he saw none.) He and his children wandered down to Doughboy Square and back. "And when we were around 36th or 37th street, that's when I could smell the tear gas."

A crowd of protesters came running his way. "You could tell the crowd had just been dispersed," Dowd says. "The police were trying to get people moving, and a lot of them were trying to hoof it out of there -- just like us."

In fact, Dowd joined forces with rival Tony Ceoffe, the head of Lawrenceville United, to encourage people to depart the scene. (Say what you will about the G20, and those who protest it, but by God -- they brought Pat Dowd and Tony Ceoffe together.)

Dowd says that if his constituents were unhappy with the use of tear gas in a residential neighborhood, he hasn't heard about it yet.  In fact, Dowd says, "I had constitutents saying stuff like 'if this is how it's going to be, this will be fine,' because they were so impressed with the police." He also gives some credit to the protesters -- a couple of whom offered to give masks to Dowd's children once the tear gas was released. 

Of course, even as I type this, there are running confrontations taking place between police and protesters. So arguably, any judgments about how either side handled itself might be premature. But Dowd knows this much about the day's events already:

"They're already part of family lore." 

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