Workers with the NYPD set up barricades outside the offices of the Manhattan District Attorney on April 1, 2023 in New York City. Image Credit: AFP

NEW YORK: Policing the “city that never sleeps” is no easy task even on a typical day - so New York law enforcement agencies are taking no chances ahead of Donald Trump’s high-profile court appearance next week, bracing for protests for and against the first indictment ever of a former US president.

The city’s police department has ordered its 36,000 officers to be in uniform and ready to deploy next week, NBC News reported Friday, citing official sources.

Asked by AFP about their posture ahead of Trump’s arraignment, a New York Police Department (NYPD) spokesperson said on Friday that “officers have been placed on alert,” and stand ready to “ensure everyone is able to peacefully exercise their rights.”

Trump, 76, is to be booked and fingerprinted and have his mugshot taken at a Manhattan courthouse on Tuesday afternoon before appearing before a judge.

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While the specific charges remain under seal, the case brought by New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg is widely believed to revolve around a $130,000 hush money payment Trump gave a porn star ahead of his successful 2016 election.

Trump’s legal team, meanwhile, is considering asking to move his criminal case from Manhattan to the more conservative New York borough of Staten Island out of concern that he won’t be able to get a fair trial, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The lawyers haven’t made a final decision and are waiting to see the charges in the indictment by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the discussions aren’t public.

The indictment will be unsealed on Tuesday when Trump is expected to appear in court to be arraigned and enter a plea of not guilty to charges stemming from a hush-money payment to a porn star before the 2016 election. Trump denies wrongdoing and says the case is part of a politically motivated “witch hunt.”

Plainclothes NYPD officers, some wearing prepare to deploy barricades near Trump Tower, in New York City on April 1, 2023.
Plainclothes NYPD officers, some wearing prepare to deploy barricades near Trump Tower, in New York City on April 1, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

Attempt likely to fail

Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor, said any attempt to move the venue is likely to fail because defendants aren’t entitled to seek out juries based on specific characteristics they find more favourable, including political views.

“The only reason he would try to move venue to Staten Island is that he thinks “- based on voter registration “- that that’s a friendlier potential jury pool for him,” Rodgers said. “That’s not going to fly.”

While President Joe Biden overwhelmingly won Manhattan in the 2020 election, Trump took Staten Island with a 57 per cent share of the vote. He entered the 2024 presidential race in November.

Last month, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that Trump’s history of inflammatory remarks about the judges and jurors in past cases warranted the use of a rare anonymous jury in the trial of civil sexual-assault claims brought against the former president by New York author E. Jean Carroll. That case is set for trial starting April 25.

Former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade, now at the University of Michigan’s law school, said the usual reason for asking a judge to move a trial is evidence that it’s “impossible” to find 12 impartial jurors. But finding fair jurors is possible even in Manhattan, where Trump is less popular than in many other areas, she said.

“You’d be surprised how many people out there pay little attention to the news and lack strong feelings about politics,” she said. “I am reasonably certain they can find 12 people to serve on a jury in this case.”

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A person wears a mask depicting former president Donald Trump and poses outside of Trump Tower on March 31, 2023 in New York City. Image Credit: AFP

Claire Finkelstein, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, said the key for Trump’s lawyers will be weeding out the most anti-Trump potential jurors during jury selection, when they’ll be quizzed extensively about their views.

No credible threats

“Trump has a right to a jury of his peers “- that does not mean a jury of Trump supporters,” she said. “His lawyers have the right to strike anyone who appears to be unable to exercise independent judgment on the case based on the facts and the law presented.”

Protests on both sides of the issue - which the president and his supporters have decried as “political persecution” - are expected to grow in the city, raising fears of unrest.

Trump supporters, including Republican member of Congress Marjorie Taylor Greene, have announced plans to protest outside the courtroom during his appearance.

For now, the NYPD spokesperson said, there are “no current credible threats to New York City.”

‘Politicised judicial systems’

Outside Trump’s eponymous skyscraper on Fifth Avenue, a dozen or so people had already taken position on Friday with signs and banners that said, “Arrest Trump” and “Tick Tock, Times Up!”

Another sign read, “No one is above the law.”

A man in a Trump costume made an appearance, and took pictures with a couple of the former president’s supporters, who carried a banner supporting his 2024 campaign.

Outside the district attorney’s heavily guarded office, Susan, a 60-year-old lawyer who declined to give her last name, had no qualms about saying she supports policies that Trump espouses, although “I don’t like his personality.”

The expected charges against Trump are overblown, at best “a misdemeanor, not a felony,” she said.

“This is ridiculous - politically motivated. I am ashamed of this justice in America that looks like that of other countries with politicised judicial systems,” she said.

Earlier in the day, three friends from San Sebastian in Spain’s Basque country passed by to take in the scene before heading to a tour of Chinatown.

“It seems strange to us,” 72-year-old Pilar Banos told AFP. “The fact that they will put him in the car with his head bowed gives him prominence and votes because it will seem like an injustice to many people.”

Trump has called the investigation a “witch hunt” and denied having any relationship with the porn star known as Stormy Daniels.

The next chapter in his legal travails will come Tuesday, when the court reveals the actual charges pending against him.