The Police Response to Occupy Wall Street
Hopefully you have been paying attention to the response that the Occupation movement has been receiving. Whether you agree with their positions or their tactics, you have to admit that the Constitution guarantees certain rights of citizens to speak and to assemble. But in city after city, authorities have been tearing down protesters' tents, destroying their possessions, police have been attacking them, jailing them, beating people.
Many writers began to wonder why it appeared that the police response was orchestrated across cities, until Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! landed an interview with Chuck Wexler, director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an organization of big-city police chiefs which set up conference calls with mayors and police chiefs about how to handle the Occupy protesters. PERF has tentacles in the Department of Homeland Security and the nationwide ability to choreograph police strategies across departments.
It makes sense for police departments to talk to each other when there is a crime wave of some sort that is coordinated across jurisdictions, you can't blame them for sharing ideas and coming up with a plan. But this is not a crime wave, it is people peacefully assembling and expressing their thoughts. The police response is typically preemptive and violent, people are shot with rubber bullets and tear-gas canisters, they are gassed and beaten with billy-clubs for assembling and speaking out, they are arrested and then, typically, they are not convicted of anything.
This week the focus has been on the pepper-spraying at UC Davis, where students were sitting on the ground with their arms linked and police in riot gear doused them with pepper spray like they were spraying bugs.
I am not going to quote at length but recommend you read the matched book-end columns of Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan. Lightbulbs are going off as people watch these videos, it is apparent that the US has become a police state where free speech is punished harshly and assembly is simply forbidden.
(While you're at it, you might find this document interesting: Proposal: Occupy Wall Street Response worked out for the American Bankers Association, a nearly-million-dollar plan for undermining the Occupy movement.)
The incident at UC Davis may not have been the worst, but there is something about the video that horrifies in a unique way. This cop has no empathy for the people he is torturing, and yes pepper spray is torture, he impassively sprays the stuff into their faces while they writhe in agony, and they hold their position, sitting on the campus, arms linked.
The university claimed that the police were surrounded and fearing for their lives, but you can see the office step right over the seated students, they were able to leave if they wanted to. Here's the video:
A UC Davis English professor wrote a scathing public letter to the Chancellor, Linda Katehi, calling for her to resign. She was the one who made the decision to call in the police, and even after the pepper-spraying she continued the line about the police being in danger, about the protesters including people who were not students, about the university (irony alert) being concerned about the students' safety as they slept out in the cold. She went on CNN and basically recited her lines, really you ought to watch that video. She is more concerned about the students protesting than the police attack on them.
The Occupy movement has made its point. If the police are there to "protect and serve," this movement has made it clear exactly who they are protecting and serving. They are certainly not serving American citizens who exercise their rights to speak freely and to peaceably assemble. The implications of these repeated, violent, and widespread police attacks on innocent civilians are far-reaching and very serious, and the #OWS movement is opening a lot of people's eyes to the insidious sabotage of liberty that has taken place throughout our historical era.
The day after the UC Davis police attack, Chancellor Katehi gave a press conference on campus. Students massed outside the building and the Chancellor was afraid to leave. The students and sympathizers sat on the ground and linked arms as Katehi left the building. This is incredible video:
Silence is powerful. This peaceful response to violence is something nobody who was present will ever forget.
I have no idea where this is going. No political party is going to be able to assimilate the Occupy movement, both sides are equally invested in the model of economic inequality that puts the greatest amount of wealth in the hands of the fewest people, who then gain control over elected officials and consequently over government. The problem is that democracy has been dissolved. I can't tell you what the solution to the problem is, powerful people with united, paramilitarized police forces serving them are not going to give up their advantage willfully. Elected officials are not going to pass legislation that offends their keepers. Do the American people have the guts to stand up for freedom? I think we will know soon.