Protesters held signs and chanted outside the Army Career Center at 126 East 103rd Street, in East Harlem. (Photo: Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times)
February 15, 2008, 6:30 pm
The Army Recruiter Is Not In
By Sewell Chan
February 15, 2008, 6:30 pm
New York Times
About 20 antiwar activists gathered outside an Army recruiting office in East Harlem this afternoon to protest what they described as the military focus on persuading young blacks and Latinos to fight in Iraq. But if their aim was to disrupt recruiting, they did not. The office had already been closed for the day, with a metal gate drawn down over the plate glass windows.
Capt. Charles V. Jaquillard, the Army Recruiting Command’s company commander for New York City, said the East Harlem office was not closed because of the protest. “We were conducting a training,” he said. “We had everybody out at Fort Hamilton today.”
After a 1 p.m. news conference at City Hall, the demonstrators gathered at 3 p.m. outside the new Army Career Center, which opened two years ago, at 126 East 103rd Street. They marched and chanted outside the closed office, as two New York City police officers looked on.
“The question of military recruitment is important because you can’t carry out this war without fresh troops,” said Debra Sweet, the director of an organization called World Can’t Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime. “These troops are being trained to carry out war crimes. We’re sending a message that military recruiters are not welcome to prey on youth. The war will be stopped by the action of the people. That is the only way it will be stopped.”
Ms. Sweet said that Latinos have been disproportionately represented among service members who have fought and died in Iraq. (The Times reported last year that the Army has focused much of its local recruitment efforts on public events popular among Hispanic New Yorkers.)
Stephanie Rugoff, a volunteer with the antiwar group, said that “military recruiters go to neighborhoods with high unemployment” and make inflated promises of education and work training.
“What are they recruiting for?” the protesters chanted, replying: “Murder, rape, torture, war!”
They held aloft signs with the messages “Say No to the Military Recruitment Center” and “Shut Down The Military Recruiters! No Iraq War! Drive Out Bush Regime!”
One protester, Elaine Bower, whose 26-year-old son recently returned from Iraq, asked, “Instead of putting a recruiting center why don’t they put a place where kids could work?”
Captain Jaquillard disputed the protesters’ assertions that the Army disproportionately targets minorities. “The Army provides opportunity for everybody,” We’re looking for qualified applicants. Some may live on the Upper West Side, some may live in the Financial District, some may live in Harlem. We put in individuals who have chosen to serve their country, of various backgrounds. There’s something that the Army offers for everybody. I don’t believe we target one demographic over another.”
The Army’s New York City recruiting battalion is based at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn.
“An Army is a reflection of its people,” said Emily Gockley, the chief of advertising and public affairs for the battalion. “America’s Army is a reflection of who and what Americans are. We have the largest recruitment mission, because we need the most people.” She said that the Army’s demographic makeup largely reflects that of the population.
Ms. Gockley acknowledged that the Army uses marketing and advertising agencies to specifically reach out to potential black and Hispanic recruits. “Just like McDonald’s markets to the African-American community differently than it does to the Hispanic or Caucasian community, we do the same thing. We apply the same marketing strategies, market segmentation. We look at various groups — white, blacks — with the propensity to enlist. It’s very complex. When they put a recruiting station in a particular area, it’s not because it’s a minority area. In fact, we had a grand opening today for a new recruiting station in Massapequa, Long Island.”
Even though there were no military officers to greet them, the protesters today were undeterred. Around 4 p.m. they left the shuttered East Harlem recruiting office and made their way toward a joint armed forces recruiting station at 76 West 125th Street, in Harlem, where they planned another demonstration.
Dmitry Kiper contributed reporting.