Occupy Wall Street: Every Action Produces Overreaction

Occupy Wall Street: Every Action Produces Overreaction

Oct 03





By Robert Stolarik
New York Times
September 30, 2011

Original Link

During their first week, members of Occupy Wall Street, the ideologically vague and strategically baffling effort to redress social inequities, put together a library on the north end of Zuccotti Park whose disparate offerings included “Last Exit to Brooklyn”; Gay Talese’s article in The New Yorker on the collaboration of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga; and Abbott’s Digest of New York Statutes and Reports, Volumes 4, 9, 33 and 34. By the middle of last week, as the numbers entrenched in the park grew, copies of “Animal Farm,” Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed” and “Meltdown,” a book outlining the 2008 financial crisis, were well placed. Specific ambitions still had not emerged, but a new intensity had begun to replace the limp theatrics.

The New York Police Department could not have intended to operate as a public relations arm for Occupy Wall Street, but its invidious treatment of the demonstrators last weekend went a tremendous way toward galvanizing sympathy for the group’s good but porous intentions. Video widely seen on the Internet of a high-ranking officer, later identified as Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, attacking what appeared to be docile protesters with pepper spray prompted public outrage and investigations by the Internal Affairs Bureau of the Police Department and Manhattan prosecutors.

Early Monday evening, helicopters flew over Wall Street, in anticipation of what — excessively boisterous readings of Orwell? — was hardly clear. The group’s march on the financial district’s Luxury Night Out was still a day away. The Broad Street outpost of Hermès was in no imminent jeopardy.

Like a toddler who throws his food on the floor, gets in trouble and then just does it again, the Police Department overreacts to peaceful protests, invites ire and then reprises its actions the next time it encounters agitation. Inspector Bologna is a defendant in lawsuits claiming wrongful arrests at protests during the Republican National Convention in 2004.

Among the approximately 600 arrests made since the protest began, on Sept. 17, were about 500 on Saturday night as 1,500 or so protesters walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. On Wednesday, three had been arrested for that decidedly questionable menace: loitering while wearing a mask. While the police would do well to avoid criminalizing costumes, the department would do even better to remember that when people are carted away by law enforcement merely for carrying cameras — as one seemed to be in another well-circulated image — more cameras are sure to come.

On Wednesday, Michael Moore asked that his interview with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC be filmed among the protesters at the park. In the preceding 48 hours, the endorsement of the left’s ruling class had been secured: encouraging words from Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein had been sent to the group; visits were paid by Susan Sarandon and Cornel West.

In the matter of demonstrations, the Police Department has, in fact, had a long and dramatic history of assuring the outcome it seemingly would most like to avoid. During the student uprisings at Columbia in 1968, aimed at the university’s affiliation with a research group linked to the Defense Department and at the construction of a university gym in Morningside Park, police brutality resulted in a powerful escalation of the movement.

“In the beginning, it did not have broad support on campus,” Alex S. Vitale, a Brooklyn College sociologist specializing in police response to protest, told me. “But when the cops started beating people up, things really changed.”

On April 30 that year, a police raid injured more than 100 students, students called a strike, and the campus shut down for the remainder of the semester. Footage of the events documents radicalization in progress. “I was a nonviolent student,” one young man witnessing the aggression says. “I couldn’t care what happened. I was completely neutral. I am not neutral anymore. I’m going to occupy a building tomorrow.”

The events in Tompkins Square Park in 1988 left the department with another black mark in its history of responding to civic unrest — 114 years after thousands of laborers, many unemployed as the result of an economic depression that began in 1873, were greeted by patrolmen flailing clubs on the same ground. Twenty-three years ago, demonstrators were responding to the imposition of a park curfew. Officers battled with protesters for hours in the middle of a summer night — and then, too, a videographer, Clayton Patterson, caught the mayhem, filming police officers, some of whom had removed their name tags, beating protesters and onlookers.

The actions prompted consternation on the part of the police commissioner at the time, Benjamin Ward, and provided an important catalyst for a renewed effort to create a civilian review board to oversee police conduct. In 1992, off-duty police officers rallied at City Hall against civilian review, but they were so unruly that they contributed to its eventual passing. “The image of drunken police officers behaving badly did not sit well with the public,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told me.

In his academic work, Professor Vitale has argued that civilian review is in itself insufficient because it deals only with individual complaints, when the problem is systemic. Over the past decade, the Police Department has responded to protesters with a style that emphasizes micromanagement and obsessive pre-emption.

During the Iraq war protest on the East Side in February 2003, when more than 350 people were arrested, the movements of demonstrators were so narrowly circumscribed, and access to the event so curtailed, that matters became more chaotic than they might otherwise have been. Police officers on horseback rammed into trapped crowds.

The encampment in Zuccotti Park is likely to remain indefinitely. At this point, any attempt on the part of the police to close things down could only result in the resurrection of Emma Goldman. Brookfield Properties, the developer that owns the land and offers it for public use, is presumably sending few notes of gratitude to the police. In a statement, a spokesman said the company was “extremely concerned with the conditions that have been created by those currently occupying the park,” and was “actively working with the City of New York to address these conditions and restore the park to its intended purpose.”

Good luck with that.



Occupy Wall Street
Daily Kos: Occupy Wall Street
Occupy TVNY on YouTube


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