Working Class Hero: Richie Machado

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Richie Machado doesn’t look or sound much like the popular image of a revolutionary. In fact, he’s the antithesis of a troublemaker looking to make a name or impress the ladies.

However, the slightly built 20-year-old from Queens has been arrested an incredible six times in the past seven months.

Why?

Richie is fairly portable at 5-foot-four and a buck-twenty soaking wet. Never a good thing when New York’s Finest are looking for someone to toss behind their lines in a showdown with the peaceful protesters of Occupy Wall Street.

Intelligent, compassionate, soft spoken, and invariably polite, Richie (right) is also that rarest of rare among Native New Yorkers – a good listener.

Machado was manning Occupy Wall Street’s information booth in Zuccotti Park when I first arrived there on Sept. 24, 2011. It was “Day Seven” in the parlance of the American pro-democracy movement. Occupy was taking its first halting steps in New York City and the college student wanted to be part of it.

 
“It’s important for people to get out in the street and show how concerned they are,” Richie told me on Day Seven. “We know we’re being watched by the cops, the Feds and the corporate people, but this has to be done. What we’re building here are networks that will exist even after this is done.”

When Richie answers questions for reporters and curious passerby he does so patiently, even gently. He never seems to initiate a conversation and the utter absence of fiery rhetoric in a place full of passionate, frustrated protesters is special and rare in and of itself.

Richie is a natural leader with a quiet strength about him. But he’s also so small that the computer geeks working nearby kept a watchful eye out for him as we spoke Day Seven. So, I was delighted and amazed to see that the little guy was still walking the walk on Friday – nearly six months later – when I covered the weekly march  in Zuccotti Park on Day 191.

I sought him out and playfully asked the first question that came to mind.
 
“So, how many times have you been arrested since we first met Richie?”
 
The answer shocked me.
 
“Six,” Machado said, shaking his head in disgust.
 
“What?”
 
“Yup,” Machado said softly. “I just keep getting thrown behind the police line and once I’m in there it just eats me up.”
 
I shook my head in disgust. Machado is not a confrontational kid and I had figured him for one or two arrests – tops. Not six.
 
Machado also is no longer a college student. He was attending the Borough of Manhattan Community College when I interviewed him six months ago. Now he’s all Occupy all the time.

If this city had a decent mayor, instead of a billionaire carpet-bagger who bought the public office he’s now abusing, Richie would still be in school. That’s where he should be, because our society can’t afford to lose great kids like him.

Unlike New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who will not be missed when he finally leaves office.

To Bloomberg and his fellow Kountry Klub Kommandos, the faltering middle class is just the human equivalent of typewriters, police batons and scrubbing bubbles. Our sons and daughters are hotties to be sexually exploited, cops and soldiers to take a bullet, or saucy troublemakers like Richie to be jailed.

Meanwhile, the silver spoon that is Georgina Bloomberg – Czar Mike’s 29-year-old daughter – spends her days as a professional equestrian and a reality TV star in shows about spoiled little rich girls. In other words, she rides horses for a living just like daddy rides the middle class.

It must be nice.
 
“Getting arrested is really horrible,” Machado confided. “It’s completely dehumanizing. We deal with everything in this society by putting it behind bars.”

“Don’t you think it’s time to give somebody else a turn,” I asked.
 
“It’s everybody’s turn,” he said.
 
I think I know this city as a fourth generation New Yorker and I think I know its police force, which includes several long-time friends. I grew up in the Bronx in the bad old days before Rudy Guiliani first played the benevolent dictator to clean the city up, and I attended the public schools shunned by the Wall Street aristocracy and their sheltered kids.

Back then, the city routinely recorded more than 2,400 homicides a year. Nearly five times the 532 homicides in 2010.
 
I’ve also been reporting for more than 20 years – much of it covering cops – and I know that criminal justice has come unhinged when a kid like Richie is repeatedly arrested for peacefully demonstrating against an unequal system we all know is wrong. Sure, anybody can get caught in the press when the former football players among the cops and protesters start leaning on one another.
 
But six times?

At a buck-twenty soaking wet?

Come on. There’s just no goddamn way he deserves that.
 
So what have you learned in the past six months, I asked him.
 
“Well, I’ve learned a lot of things,” Richie said patiently. “I never realized the police could be so brutal. I also never realized that people could be as beautiful as they have been in the Occupy movement. We have endured cold nights, police brutality and exhaustion.
 
Have you lost your optimism, I asked.
 
“I’m about the same as I was six months ago, but I also have a lot more base knowledge of how bad things are and how great people can be.”
 
“I see a lot of hope in us changing things if we can do it in effective, symbolic, nonviolent ways that are also enjoyable. We have to do it with a smile and remember that we are doing this for our community. That’s what I found here in Zuccotti six months ago – community and hope.”
 
Me too.
 
Zuccotti is the place where I found hope and inspiration in the selfless actions of Occupiers  like Richie Machado. I’m damn proud of them. You should be too.

They have endured more than 6,000 arrests and the Bloomberg Nanny State has locked up more than any other city.

Zuccotti is also the place where I fell out of love with the New York City Police Department. It’s the place where NYPD Inspector Anthony Bologna screamed at me when I innocently asked him who was handling media comments the morning of Sept. 24. A few hours later he was pepper spraying young girls whose only crime was being decent working class kids who care about the greater good.

In sum, anything to curry favor with Czar Mike.

Zuccotti is the place where decent working-class New Yorkers were prevented from making their way to the New York Stock Exchange to protest the avarice of the predatory elites enriching Bloomberg, while foreign tourists were allowed to do as they pleased in a public space that’s supposed to belong to all of us.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg has closed the 9/11 memorial we all paid for to the general public. Only the groups that meet with his approval get to visit that shrine to our fallen dead.

That ain’t right.

We shouldn’t need a permit to assert our freedoms of speech and assembly in this city and we shouldn’t need Czar Mike’s permission to visit Ground Zero. He doesn’t own any of it.

I spent some time working in South Korea and Japan for the military publication Stars & Stripes when I was a baby reporter back in the late 1990s. I even lived at Osan Air Force Base for a while, which is about 30 miles from the most heavily defended border in the world. It’s a base for everything that kills, where A-10 Thunderbolts circle overhead, forests of Patriot missles point north, and half-track-mounted anti-aircraft guns serve as ground defense.

And the painful truth is that more than nine out of every 10 service members at Osan AFB serve in noncombat roles. They prepare meals, stack warehouse shelves, and run lodging facilities like the visiting officers quarters.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t thank them for their service, because there’s no doubt they’ve all placed themselves in harm’s way simply by being at Osan. That said, there’s no doubt that Machado and his fellow protesters have done the same. For free and at no small sacrifice to themselves.

That means it’s just as appropriate to thank them for their service. 

So, thank you Richie.  Thank you Occupiers. Thank you for getting arrested in my name. Thank you for risking your education and your future to try and make this nation great again.

Six times.

Michael Bloomberg is not well represented in this column. Mostly, because the richest elected official in U.S. history has been acting like a scrub for a few years now by shamelessly championing the Predatory 1 Percent and treating the rest of us like the bottom of his shoe.

I think a lot of people are tired of it. I know I am.

I haven’t been this ashamed by a fellow Jew since David Berkowitz – the notorious Son of Sam. Bernie Madoff is a greedy dude, but he targeted the rich, whereas Czar Mike seems to be on a personal mission to let the 99 Percent know we don’t count for squat in his world. The value of human beings is measured solely by the size of their bankroll and what they’re willing to do to other people for money in that sheltered world.

It could be that we locked up the wrong guy, or maybe that Madoff and Bloomberg both need to be in jail. I dunno.

I do know that Czar Mike tried to push through a traffic congestion pricing plan a few years back that would have cleared working-class motorists out of Manhattan so he and his loser buddies in the 1 Percent could travel more freely in their limos and town cars. And I do know that he pushed through a plan that stripped my alma mater – the working-class City College of New York – of its athletic field and shifted the Harlem land to wealthy Columbia University – another one of my alma maters.

Then he helped raise the tolls on city bridges and tunnels from $8 to $12 and lifted the price to ride city buses and subways. The increases aren’t even chump change for Czar Mike and the country club set – they’re pocket lint – but they’re a major burden for those of us in the 99 Percent.

Six times.

And Czar Mike has been absoloutely ruthless with the Occupy movement in recent months, describing the NYPD as his personal army. He hit a new low Monday when he baited protesters in his grating Boston accent by saying: “You want to get arrested? We’ll accommodate you.”

As if he ever walked a beat, snapped a set of handcuffs closed or even fought his own battles in high school. Czar Mike is only a tough guy so long as he can hire one part of the 99 Percent to beat up another part of the 99 Percent.

And this rich loser is the public face of New York?

Is he really the best we can do?

When did we turn from a city of decent hardworking people into a city of pampered rich trash? Cause I must have missed it.

I just don’t like the way Bloomberg has been acting. Lately, he sounds a lot like Sheriff Bull Connor, the Alabama law man who met protesters for racial equality with fire hoses, billy clubs and attack dogs in 1963.

Six times.

The whole showdown between OWS and NYPD has been difficult for me to cover because I have a lot of friends in uniform.

I was a cadet in a paramilitary organization at the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx as a young man.  It sits empty now because the Predatory 1 Percent couldn’t find a way to turn a profit on it. God forbid they should open it back up just so we could run some youth programs there again.

The Civil Air Patrol’s Bronx Group Drill Team guided a lot of troubled young kids through some tough times in the 1980s in that armory. Several members were either cops or went on to become cops. They’re great guys.

Like a lot of working-class New Yorkers, I’ve tried to show my thanks to them by sporting NYPD hats and T-shirts the past 11 years.

Sadly, you don’t see that stuff on the streets nearly as much these days because a lot of the people who grew up in this town and know what time it is are just too ashamed to wear their NYPD gear any more. It’s not hard to see why.

Instead of protecting their fellow New Yorkers, NYPD is working for Bloomberg and his fellow financial carpet-baggers. And let’s be blunt – they stopped advancing the greater good decades ago.

Bottom line fellas – y’all can come get your NYPD gear any time you like. I don’t want it any more. Not if you’re going to act like this.

I’m ashamed of you. I’d like to proud of you again.

But six times?

Are you out of your friggin minds?

The Richie Machados of the world are not disposable human beings. And the fact that Bloomberg and his rich friends think they are is really all the decent people in NYPD blue should need to know. It’s high time the police took their union back from Bloomberg’s hired dogs and showed the 1 Percent who really runs this city.

To paraphrase George Bailey in the American film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” – the 99 Percent are the people who do most of the living and dying in this city. Not the soft hands who play dress-up at pricey charity balls so they can pay lip service to the greater good and assuage their guilt over the way their concentrated wealth has impoverished the rest of us.

It’s time for the men and women in blue to show Bloomberg they’re not his private army, because he thinks they are. And that alone is insulting. A lot of us know they’re better than this.

As for Bloomberg. He’s done in this city – he’s toast. And he needs to head back to Boston or set up permanent residence at the Bermuda mansion where he spends his weekends or some other enclave for the rich and delusional. Either that or rule the city through someone else, much as he now tries to hide the media empire that bears his name behind the Businessweek brand.

Six times.

One of the things I learned in the Kingsbridge Armory and at Osan Air Force Base is that leadership is done by example. That means Czar Mike should be here on the weekends – especially when the city is hit by a paralyzing snowfall. He should be shoveling out old lady’s driveways like Newark Mayor Cory Booker – not swilling Shirley Temples in Bermuda in white shorts and black socks.

It also means his spoiled kids should have been attending public school alongside the rest of us, instead of living like rock stars in Wellington, Fla.

If our public schools aren’t good enough for Czar Mike’s kids, he shouldn’t be in Gracie Mansion in the first place. And he shouldn’t be setting the NYPD on the children of the working class like they’re some kind of disposable human beings.

You know the old adage”freedom isn’t free?”

Well, the Richies of the world are paying the price for all of us right now. They deserve our gratitude, respect and support for doing so

The painful truth is that NYPD morale is at its lowest point in decades. Partly because they’re being pressure to arrest the good kids like Richie and partly because they have poor leadership at the top.

I’m not talking about Commissioner Ray Kelly.

I’m talking about Czar Mike.

Bloomberg doesn’t know it, but it’s time for him and his ambitious lackeys and their sheltered brats to get to stepping. It’s been time.

Six times.