Occupy Rochester

Police in Rochester have received an order to go to Occupy Rochester every night from this day forward and have occupiers show IDs.

Last night, at 2 am ET last night when police showed up at Occupy Rochester. They woke occupiers up (which is not surprising since it was 2 am). The police then asked occupiers for IDs.

A video posted has audio from the incident.

“What is the purpose of suddenly asking for our IDs?” an occupier asks.

A police officer responds that police in the Rochester Police Department got an email to start checking today. That’s what we were discussing earlier.”

“I’m just kind of questioning why we suddenly had to have IDs,” an occupier says.

Another officer says, “It’s going to be a nightly thing so just make sure you have it.”

“What time is it?” an occupier asks.

“2 o’clock,” the officer replies.

The officers leave and the occupier says, “What should we do about this? Is there any recourse?” They say they are trying to contact their city liaison.

This is obviously a gross violation of civil liberties. The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) put out a statement:

According to reports from witnesses in the park, police officers entered the park after 2 a.m. and began rousting sleeping protesters and demanding to see their IDS. They further demanded to search the protestors’ tents and other personal property. The police officers said they were acting under orders of the Rochester Police Department’s “deputy director” and that they would return nightly to conduct similar identification checks and searches. The officers also said they would return nightly from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m.

In a letter sent today, the NYCLU calls on Mayor Thomas Richards to instruct the Police Department to stop harassing peaceful protestors and to comply with the terms of the agreement the city signed with Occupy Rochester in November.

KaeLyn Rich, director of the NYCLU’s Genessee Valley Chapter, plans to visit the Occupy Rochester site tonight and says what the police did is “pure harassment and an outrageous affront to free speech.” She also stated, “There is no good reason for police to be harassing peaceful protesters in the dead of night. It flies in the face of both the First Amendment and the agreement between the city and Occupy Rochester that allows the demonstrators to camp in the park.”

NYCLU sent Mayor Thomas S. Richards a letter. The letter said, “There is no reasonable explanation for identification checks and searches of peaceful protestors in the middle of the night. These aggressive tactics fly in the face of both the First Amendment protections accorded to political protest activity, and the agreement between Occupy Rochester and the City to permitthe protestors’ use of Washington Square Park.”

So, why are police suddenly demanding occupiers show IDs? Why are polcie coming at 2 am in the morning? Why couldn’t they check IDs during the daytime?

Each of these questions are posed with good reason, but their answers are largely irrelevant when considering the real issue here, which is that occupiers are being treated like second-class citizens. Somehow engaging in a public assembly, which is happening with the consent of the city, means one gives up civil liberties or rights that one typically would enjoy if they were not an occupier exercising their First Amendment rights.

This is what law enforcement officers like Sheriff Joe Arpaio claim they must be allowed to do to Latino immigrants in Arizona. Under SB1070, anyone who looks like an immigrant can be asked to show their papers to prove they are a US citizen. ACLU staff attorney Omar Jadwat said in opposition to the law America is “not a ‘show me your papers country,’ nor do we believe in subjecting people to harassment, investigation and arrest simply because others may perceive them as foreign.”

Or, it is what Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin would force the homeless to do. Currently, Wisconsin has a voter ID law, which the ACLU and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty filed a lawsuit against last December. Heather Johnson, a civil rights attorney at the NLCHP, stated, ”Protecting homeless persons’ right to vote is crucial, since voting is one of the few ways that homeless individuals can impact the political process and make their voices heard…By limiting participation to Wisconsin residents with photo identification, this law effectively silences homeless persons’ voices. With homelessness rising by 12 percent in Wisconsin since the recession began, we cannot allow the state to set this dangerous and unconscionable precedent.”

What exactly does the city plan to do if Rochester occupiers are found to not have IDs? Are they going to ban them from “occupying” Washington Square? Why should the city be allowed to carry out a routine against occupiers that clearly is only justified by fear?

Finally, the order is suspect. The officer says in the video officers received an email that this is something they have to start doing. From whom did they receive this email? Did it come from a federal government agency? Or did the mayor just decide to start doing this?

I doubt the local police of Rochester would just randomly start showing up in the middle of the week to force occupiers to show ID. I do, however, believe the FBI or Homeland Security might start directing police departments to ID any people who remain at Occupy sites. I do think that a federal government would direct cities to help them fill a database of occupiers so they could track them out of some largely unfounded fear of “domestic terrrorism.”

Now, is that why Rochester police started showing up to violate occupiers’ civil liberties?