'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, March 19, 2012

Six Month Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street 

On Saturday, protesters observed the six month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street:

. . . on the 6-month anniversary of the original Occupation of Wall Street, #OWS went back to our origins. After a weekend of marches on Wall Street complete with spring training exercises, a St. PatrickĀ“s Day march, street theater, floating tents, and dancing in the intersections, Liberty Square was re-occupied by thousands of Occupy supporters. Unfortunately, bringing back memories of November 15th, NYPD violently evicted us from our home once again while Occupiers were hugging old friends and celebrating the coming of spring in the park.

According to the New York Times, scores were arrested, and more injured, during the attack. Police used city buses to corral mass-arrested protesters. Media were not allowed to cover the events. After clearing the Square, NYPD placed barricades around the area - an act specifically barred by previous legal action. At least one person was taken to the hospital on a stretcher. We have also heard reports of seizures and broken bones. On Livestream, peaceful protesters are seen being tackled, punched, stomped, choked, hit with batons, and thrown against cars for no reason other than sitting down to peacefully protest inequality in a public park.

More, from the Guardian:

At the end of a day of demonstrations in lower Manhattan on Saturday, police cleared the park of a group of protesters just before midnight. The NYPD said 73 people were arrested during the day.

Activists said the NYPD clamped down hard on the renewed demonstrations. A woman suffered a seizure while handcuffed on a sidewalk, another protester was thrown into a glass door by police officers while he was handcuffed, and a young woman said she was choked and dragged by her hair.

Individuals who have been involved in Occupy protests for months described the NYPD actions on Saturday as the most violent they had seen.

The police were especially harsh in their treatment of people arrested after attempting to set up a new encampment in Zuccotti Park:

Police used a city bus to remove more than a dozen arrested protesters. Protester Shawn Carrie managed to send a number of tweets and text massages from inside the vehicle. He claimed that a police officer smashed a guy's head into a window and stomped on the neck of another protester.

Police broke my left thumb and possibly my jaw. My right ear is bleeding and there's a bootprint on my face, Carrie tweeted. The National Lawyers Guild confirmed Carrie was taken to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, along with McMillan and one other injured protester.

In another incident, officers arrested a medic while trying to shut down a sidewalk march, and, while doing so, cracked the top portion of a plate glass door by slamming his head into it.

The deliberate violence directed towards Occupy by the NYPD raises yet again, that question that has yet to be answered. How should the movement relate to the police? Are they, as chanted during the early days of the movement part of the 99%? Or, are they more analogous to the hated security forces in countries like Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and Algeria, among others? Or, somewhere in between? In Oakland, protesters clearly see them as a detested security apparatus, hence the numerous Fuck the Police marches. But progressive, middle class East Bay activists have tired of violent confrontations with the police, such as occurred on J28. Conversely, Occupy appears to have waned in places where the police have successfully suppressed the movement by raiding encampments, although it may reemerge in new, unanticipated ways.

Perhaps, it may be useful to examine the nature of the police as they relate to Occupy in order to contemplate what may happen in the future. The situations in New York City and Oakland may be instructive. In Oakland, the police initiated the violence suppression of Occupy nationally with assaults upon the first encampment and subsequent protests, using tear gas, bean bags and flash grenades, resulting in the infamous injury inflicted upon Scott Olson. It thereafter participated in the manufacture of false information related to the prevalence of crime and the impact upon local business to generate public support for the raid upon the second encampment.

Interestingly, though, some officers publicly objected to the possible use of force prior to the November 2nd general strike, and large marches were allowed to take place unimpeded. Violence erupted late in the evening when the police intervened to stop the attempted takeover of the Traveler's Aid Society building by a large crowd of young people. Later, during the December 12th port shutdown, the police were again quiescent, probably because of the substantial participation of rank and file union members. During J28, the police responded to the attempt to take over the Kaiser Auditorium with extreme, paramilitary force. Meanwhile, they have engaged in an aggressive policy of arresting people for minor, frequently non-existent offenses to disrupt protests and prevent the creation of a new encampment at Oscar Grant Plaza, and persuaded the Alameda County District Attorney to overcharge arrestees to an absurd degree.

What tentative conclusions can be drawn from this cursory history? Perhaps, only two: (1) that the attacks upon Occupy Oakland have been part of a coordinated, national effort to suppress Occupy since their inception; and (2) that there remains a local dimension to the ongoing confrontations between Occupy Oakland and the OPD. It is this second feature that paradoxically intensifies them while leaving open the possibility for some fracturing within law enforcement as to how to proceed in any given situation. Hostility towards the OPD by many in Occupy Oakland is well grounded in a long history of police violence directed towards poor people and people of color for decades. Conversely, the OPD appears to be aware that its ability to act violently without public censure is dependent upon directing such violence, as much as possible, towards people who have been consistently reviled by the mainstream, people that can be characterized in conformity with stereotypes associated with young people of color and the Black Bloc. Accordingly, there remains the possibility that Occupy Oakland and the OPD will engage in a low intensity conflict for many years, a conflict mediated by the surrounding community, similar to an earlier one between the Black Panthers and the OPD.

Oddly enough, it is in New York City, where the protesters have been less confrontational than in Oakland, that the police more readily fit the model of a state security force. Manhattan is subjected to one of the most rigorous programs of video surveillance of any part of the US. NYPD officers and private security officers from major Wall Street firms work together in a command center that enables to them to monitor activity in the financial district. NYPD officers have fanned out to neighboring cities and states to profile Muslim communities, an exhaustive effort that includes photographs and descriptions of local businesses and mosques. JP Morgan Chase, and perhaps other financial institutions, have made substantial contributions to organizations associated with the NYPD. In this, the NYPD has a relationship with Wall Street similar to the one that the Metropolitan Police of London has had with the media empire of Rupert Murdoch. In both instances, the police perceive their interests in conformity with their powerful, transnational corporate allies. In London, the Met passed confidential information to reporters working for a Murdoch owned tabloid, the News of the World, and sought to forestall any investigation of misconduct after the sensational phone hacking revelations, while, in New York City, the NYPD willingly puts its post-9/11 surveillance apparatus and crowd control tactics at the service of Wall Street. Surely, it is not a coincidence that the Met and the NYPD are known for their aggressive use of kettling as a way to shut down unwanted protest.

Hence, as yesterday, the NYPD acts with little restraint when it comes to dealing with Occupy Wall Street, despite the lack of the pretexts that have served the OPD in similar circumstances. While Marxists see a working class base within the NYPD, the possibility of NYPD officers responding favorably to a political line that incorporates them into the 99% appears remote, less so, in fact, than in Oakland, where some officers of color have objected to police tactics. Perhaps, given the nationalization of the police through various forms of federal financial assistance and training, such distinctions are trivial, but they should be explored before treating the police in all urban contexts as monolithic. Clearly, there is an attempt to transform the police along the lines of private military contractors like Xe, but we shouldn't assume that it has been fully implemented. In any event, the NYPD appears to be farthest along in this process, which suggests that there is no limit to the violence that can be used against those involved in Occupy Wall Street. If there is to be a violent confrontation between Occupy and the police beyond what we have experienced to date, it is most likely to happen in New York City.

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