Last week, we filed a report from the Jersey-bound PATH train tunnels beneath midtown Manhattan, in which city authorities were not prepared for the deluge of transit patrons on their way to the inaugural Hudson River Derby at Red Bull Arena.
Well, that episode was the stuff of Saturday morning cartoons compared to what happened in the Bronx on Friday night, in which security and law enforcement once again struggled to comprehend the unique demands of the professional soccer environment created by New York City FC.
THE HAPPY PART
From one perspective, Friday night's dramatic 2-2 draw in the Bronx was the height of catharsis, a much-needed result for a goal-starved expansion team slipping-and-sliding through a lamentable losing streak.
This was not, unfortunately, the only off-the-field scene that defined Friday night's proceedings.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
Before I go off like Mr. Smith, or Pacino from ...And Justice for All, let's be clear: major sporting events, especially in New York, create public safety environments that come with unique demands attached.
The top priority, as always, should be the safety of those present, whether they be fans, officials, or idle passers-by.
Those in attendance enter into a type of covenant -- a social contract for the sports world -- when they purchase a ticket and come to the venue. As repeated events across the soccer world remind us, this covenant is what keeps us from becoming Argentina or the Balkans.
With that in mind, let's get to the damning aspects of Friday night's security and law enforcement environment, as represented by the venue's Securitas firm and the New York Police Department:
- As with every home game since Sporting Kansas City on March 28th, the four supporters' sections (235-6-7-8) were handled firmly and denied recourse-- fans were ejected for swearing within earshot of Securitas employees, whether or not such swearing was directed at any individuals whatsoever.
Really? SWEARING at a sporting event in which alcohol is served not just at the stadium, but at an incalculable number of locations within easy walking distance in every single direction? For shame!
To be perfectly serious, however, no abuse should ever be permitted. It's reflected verbatim in both Yankee Stadium and Major League Soccer policy. But the previous bullet point isn't even referring to the dozens, if not hundreds of fans regularly yelling "PUTO"" -- a translational equivalent to calling a man a bitch -- after opposing goal kicks. No, the bulk of those abusers went either unnoticed or untouched.
Instead, based on information from every primary source with whom I've spoken (fans from the Third Rail sections of 236 and 237, the mixed supporter sections of 235 and 238, and multiple reports from the 130's), numerous individuals were ousted for language without respect for context, and certainly with no respect for intent:
- Approximately ten supporters were removed from section 238 alone, including Hearts of Oak supporters' group president Johnny Flanagan and numerous rank-and-file. As Flanagan has noted repeatedly through social media and in the flesh, he strongly believes that elements within 238 are being disproportionately targeted. I stood in 238 for Friday's game. How else can these asymmetrical purges be explained?
Though relations between the various fan groups and clubs around New York City FC are currently as good as they've ever been, it's a sour point among those not affiliated with the officially-recognized Third Rail that NYCFC is facilitating -- knowingly or unknowingly -- an environment that is unfairly skewed against the smaller, grassroots-type supporter organizations.
These issues have contributed to Hearts of Oak's desire for officially-recognized status with the club, which was not a goal of the organization upon its inception earlier this year. This shift came out of necessity, for the sake of viability.
On that note:
- Two supporters were arrested and sent to
Bronx Central Bookingon-site holding on charges of disorderly conduct. Is this the right call, or an utter disgrace? You be the judge:
Let's recap what can be seen here, presumably in the interest of clearing the street:
(Although the streets remained closed and ostensibly pedestrian-only, an ambulance and a few police cars needed a clear street in order to pass by.)
Officer Whiteshirt walks into the middle of the joyous fray and grabs two individuals who were holding an NYC12 flag. The fact that they were holding this particular flag appears to be the only thing setting them apart from anyone else in the tremendously large crowd.
Those two fans, Brendan F. of Hearts of Oak and Jerzy K. from Brown Bag Social Club, have upcoming court dates for their disorderly conduct charges. Barring any official intervention, they'll have to go before a judge and answer for what they did wrong.
Well, what did they do wrong?
Their booking presupposes that they were "more wrong" than those around them at the time, right? We have direct video footage of the scene as it happened. What is the crime here?
As Brendan F. recalled via Reddit:
We were on sort of the outside of the large group "party" in the streets. All of a sudden two cops grabbed us and dragged us to the car. He slammed my head against the car and cuffed me. We went in a holding cell where the only answer to what we were doing wrong was "being an asshole". Finally got a "disorderly conduct" ticket.
And again, via Facebook:
"I was told I was making everybody chant and riot."
A riot? Is that even remotely close to what the evidence suggests?
WHY THIS WHOLE THING STINKS
NYCFC supporters don't hate the police. Far from it:
Further, if NYPD really wants to use a "we needed to clear the streets so official vehicles could pass through"-type explanation, there are two serious problems with this:
- That still doesn't explain why these two men were singled out as criminals.
- In an especially loud and boisterous public environment such as this, it's well-known that police use loudspeakers to communicate important public safety-related messages, like clearing a crowded street. I was there myself-- I heard no such announcement, nor can any be heard in the above video clips.
In other words, there would have needed to be one or more official announcements about clearing the streets so as to give the public appropriate time to comply, lest common behavior be sweepingly criminalized. Instead, NYPD skipped straight to the kind of "hard power" that doesn't breed increased cooperation in the least.
What to gather from all of this? We have a stadium security firm and a city police apparatus that is used to the relatively low-key crowds that accompany the day-to-day ebbs and flows of regular season baseball. They have, for the first time ever, been asked to handle the unique demands of a decidedly raucous soccer-oriented environment.
They weren't ready for soccer.
Not for its idiosyncrasies, not for its noise, and not for its passion. The dynamics couldn't be more different from baseball.
Within reason, the particular way in which the Beautiful Game engages its fans ought to be celebrated, not condemned or intimidated. Anything less would amount to a disincentive for fandom. I highly doubt that's what Major League Soccer intended when it expanded to the largest city in America, and the largest media market in the world.
WHAT CAN THE FANS DO ABOUT THIS?
The Third Rail Supporters' Club has made repeated attempts to reach out in efforts to address these sorts of events.
Member Caleb-Michael Files, who was removed for swearing during the Sporting Kansas City match on March 28th, had this to say via Facebook:
"There is a disconnect when they escorted me out, the police said I was 100% correct and the security was wrong but it was their jurisdiction."
Hearts of Oak president Flanagan tells a similar story upon his aforementioned removal from Friday's game:
Added Third Rail Executive Board member Chris Zdybicki, also via Facebook:
"Third Rail talks to the club regularly about this. But [Yankee Stadium] wants nothing to do with us, refuses to communicate or throw us any bones."
According to fellow Third Rail member Jonathan Sanchez, New York City FC's front office was not aware of the extent of these stadium ejections and NYPD interventions until earlier this afternoon, when he and a number of interested parties called the Office of Fan Services.
To their credit, club officials have been anything but unresponsive:
Just got off the phone with the team, they want to talk to anyone who got kicked out or arrested on Friday. 212-738-5838 Dan.— Jonathan Sanchez (@jonsanch3z) May 18, 2015
Up until today they claim to not have known about the incidents that occurred last match. Call and tell them your story.— Jonathan Sanchez (@jonsanch3z) May 18, 2015
Besides all of the legal and ethical concerns that remain unresolved, these events serve to reinforce how vital a proper home stadium will be for NYCFC and its budding supporter culture. Without a dedicated apparatus to nurture club and fan development -- the team is a sub-letter in the South Bronx, and not even a glorified one -- these types of problems won't just continue:
Unfortunately, the civic disconnect that has made the search for a stadium site so difficult is the same disconnect that has enabled these issues with the authorities. Until the club's ownership convinces the City of New York to show any interest whatsoever in New York City FC's existence (they really haven't done that yet), expect to hear more misadventures like these.
And more non-violent, well-meaning sports fans bent over the hoods of cop cars in metal bracelets.
Do you have a story you want to tell from match day in the Bronx? We want to hear it. Leave a comment or drop us a line @hudsonriverblue on Twitter.
This post was edited to reflect where the two arrested fans were later detained.