s the Republican National Convention approached its final evening tonight, nearly 1,800 protesters had been arrested on the streets, two-thirds of them on Tuesday night alone. But for all the anger of the demonstrations, they have barely interrupted the convention narrative, and have drawn relatively little national news coverage.
Using large orange nets to divide and conquer, and a near-zero tolerance policy for activities that even suggest the prospect of disorder, the New York Police Department has developed what amounts to a pre-emptive strike policy, cutting off demonstrations before they grow large enough, loud enough, or unruly enough to affect the convention.
The demonstrations, too, have thus far been more restrained than many recent protests elsewhere; five years ago in Seattle, for example, there was widespread arson and window-smashing, none of which has occurred here. Lacking bloody scenes of billy-club-wielding police or billowing clouds of tear gas, the cameras - and the public's attention - have focused elsewhere.
"It is almost easier to explain what you are not getting here," said Ted Koppel, anchor and managing editor of ABC's "Nightline," when he was asked why news organizations have given little time to the protests. "What you are not getting here is a replay of 1968 in Chicago."
Twice yesterday, protesters did manage to breach the security cordon at Madison Square Garden. During Vice President Dick Cheney's speech last night, a woman wearing a pink slip rushed the convention floor. She was quickly tackled and dragged out, while nearby conventiongoers covered the disturbance by raising their signs and chanting.
Earlier, at noon, 12 demonstrators from Act Up, the protest group concerned with AIDS issues, entered the convention site. They interrupted a speech that Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, was giving to a group of Young Republicans. The protesters, who were shouting for more money to prevent the spread of AIDS, were arrested, and one was charged with assault after a scuffle.
Ann Roman, a spokeswoman for the Secret Service, said the Act Up protesters apparently had legitimate Young Republican floor passes, although she would not say how they acquired them.
In general, though, if the week's protesters wound up shouting mostly to themselves, the Bush-Cheney campaign did not get the wild-eyed foil it had counted on, either. While Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the Police Department had promised an orderly city all along, several Republicans had indicated that they hoped to blame the campaign of the Democratic nominee, John Kerry, for any destruction.
So far, there has been little to pin on the Democrats.
"If the protesters do something outrageous, they benefit Bush; if they don't do something outrageous they don't get covered," said Kieran Mahoney, a Republican political consultant from New York. "They are the answer to the question, 'If a tree falls in the forest, does it make any noise?' "
In fact, the image that went nationwide, on television and in newspapers, was from Sunday, when United for Peace and Justice, a protest coalition, held a huge but orderly march that managed to cast a shadow over the opening day of the convention.
Now, with the highest-profile day to go, the day President Bush accepts his nomination, it appears that the New York Police Department may have successfully redefined the post-Seattle era, by showing that protest tactics designed to create chaos and to attract the world's attention can be effectively countered with intense planning and a well-disciplined use of force.
"So far, operationally, this has been a success for the department; things have gone well," said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. "We started 18 months ago. A lot of hard work by a lot of people, and so far it's paid off."
For New York City, and in particular for Mayor Bloomberg, the events of the last few days are a major victory, especially as he tries to persuade the International Olympic Committee to bring the 2012 Games to the city.
"When the mayor bid for this convention, part of his argument, to bring either convention here, was that New York City had the only police force to deal with a modern anarchist threat," said Kevin Sheekey, a close adviser to the mayor who served as president of the convention host committee. "And obviously the Police Department has done that astoundingly well."