Occupy Wall Street engaged in a protest on Saturday that called for the resignation of New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly. It also included an anti-police brutality march that explicitly challenged the NYPD’s handling of the Occupy movement over the past months.
More than ten protesters were arrested in the action. NYPD’s handling of the march appeared to validate the message of the day’s action. Mesiah Hameed, a young African-American woman who protesters were saying is only 16-years-old, was arrested. A New York Times videographer claims she was ordered to disperse and engaged in civil disobedience to block the movement of police scooters. No Occupy Wall Street protester suggested civil disobedience against police scooters had led to the arrest.
Hameed’s arrest prompted cries of sexual harassment. For no apparent reason, Hameed’s shirt was lifted exposing her bra. She then had multiple officers grab her by her arms and legs and, handcuffed, she was carried down the middle of the street for two blocks before finally arriving at a police vehicle that would take her away to be processed and jailed. The website for Occupy Wall Street reacted, “One 16 year-old grabbed by 5 police while alone on the sidewalk, thrown around and some clothes ripped off before being placed in handcuffs. She was carried off by shoulders and legs while crying. This is unacceptable!”
NYCLU legal observers reported they were shoved. About an hour after Hameed had been arrested, a “random person,” according to Occupy Wall Street, was thrown to the ground for “no reason.” It seemed they were “just grabbing anyone” they could.
The New York Times reported the arrest of a man that they were not allowed to view as the police closed off the area and prevented the press from doing their job. “Lying face down on the ground, the man began shouting that the plastic flex-cuffs were cutting circulation to his hands. He shouted, ‘I am in excruciating pain!’ He laid there until a truck arrived and police hauled him into the back with other detainees.”
Police rushed a protester carrying a yellow Occupy Wall Street flag. A video of police tackling the protester suggests the attack was unprovoked.
By midnight, the NYPD presence had increased significantly. An officer announced Union Square was closed. Filmmaker Michael Moore reacted, “NYPD has just shut down UnionSq so that [Occupy Wall Street] can’t exercise its constitutnl rights. I’ve never heard of Union [Square] being sealed off by police.” According to many from New York, the shutting down of Union Square had not even occurred when New York hosted the Republican National Convention.
The anti-police brutality march was largely born out of anger and rage. Not surprisingly, NBC New York was quick to note that much of the action had been spent shouting obscenities at police.
Ryan Devereaux of The Guardian summed up the action:
Occupy Wall Street called for the demonstration following last weekend’s mass arrest of at least 73 protesters, a crackdown most Occupiers described as excessively violent. Organisers framed Saturday’s action as a critique of an array of NYPD tactics that tend to disproportionately target low-income communities and people of colour. Protesters repeatedly pointed to the department’s widespread use of street-level stop and frisks and the surveillance of Muslim communities as examples of failed NYPD policy.
Devereaux interviewed an Occupy protester who expressed concern that the message of Occupy was being watered down because of this action. He suggested the movement needs to be careful not to stray from economic issues.
The concern comes from a good place; however, there is no Occupy Wall Street if individuals are unwilling to take on the New York Police Department. Occupy Wall Street grew exponentially back in September because a few hundred people had the guts to stick it out in Zuccotti Park and put up with aggressive policing from the NYPD. And don’t forget the massive arrest of 700 people on the Brooklyn Bridge and the pepper spraying of female protesters got the attention of media that began to give the movement regular coverage.
NYPD operations present a clear obstacle for Occupy Wall Street: spaces where people should be able to practice assembly are being shut down and in many cases the closures are happening preemptively. To control the crowd, the objective seems to be to ensure protests are unable to build and achieve the same power that they had back in October or November of last year.
Occupiers should be able to remain in Union Square overnight because the space is subject to city rules, not Brookfield Properties’ rules. Police have chosen to not tolerate freedom of assembly in the park and have erected metal barricades around the park between midnight and 6 am for the past days.
According to the Village Voice, occupiers have responded creatively:
Friday, shortly before the wall of police uniforms moved in for the midnight eviction, protesters set up a “people’s barricade” made of cardboard just outside the park, chanting”Protect the neighborhood! Keep the cops in!’”
Friday also saw the inaugural People’s Rap/Song/Dance Battle, as occupiers lined up opposite the ranks of police, challenging them to round after round of rap battles and performance contests. (The police forfeited.)…
…At the end of the night, shortly before the park is due to open and another nightly standoff comes to an end, the occupiers have taken to lining up on the other side of the barricades and parading past the ranks of police, hands out for a high-five that never comes, saying “Good game, good game.”
“It’s just another way of pointing up how ridiculous and unnecessary and expensive this show of force is,” Guest says. “But it’s also a way of humanizing us. Last night, for the first time, one of the officers said ‘good game’ back.”
The theater is a much better response to senseless security than shouting, “Fuck the police!”
Occupy may have been born from a sense that unfair practices by Big Banks on Wall Street needed to end, bank executives needed to pay and some even needed to go to jail. It may have come from frustration over student debt and income inequality, but it has become increasingly clear over the past months that the NYPD is a domestic spy agency that spies on Muslims and rivals the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It is a secret police force that will infiltrate activist groups and send officers as far as New Orleans to engage in undercover operations. And, it is a security force that employs police measures like “stop and frisk,” which promote racism.
The constant showdowns between NYPD and the Occupy movement represent a microcosm of the security state versus civil liberties. Occupy believes in the absolute right to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The NYPD under the direction of Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg believe there is no such thing as too much security, even security that clearly limits one’s right to dissent or exercise freedom of the press.
The security is something that a majority of Occupy groups have had to confront on some level over the past months. It is what provides relief to the crooks, fraudsters, greedy executives, lobbyists, pig-headed politicians and spineless government representatives, who fear accountability for their actions. It isn’t what the movement set out to confront when it began, but it is what it has realized it has to have an answer to if the movement is going to keep important discussions alive. And, when considering the fact that 7000 or so people have been arrested since the movement began, they have done a good job of not letting the security bring an end to the movement.
The suppression of the Occupy movement has been egregious. It seems like it is increasingly unsafe for people to exercise their rights as people get manhandled and suffer seizures, near-fatal head injuries, etc. The movement does not just face a question about continuing the conversation on economic issues. It faces a question of whether the powers that be will let it continue the conversation on economic issues it is trying to advance.
It isn’t like Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy groups in the country have not held a fair amount of actions against police brutality and misconduct in the United States. So, it isn’t too diversionary to suggest Occupy would do well to spend some weeks putting more focus on the security state in America and how it protects economic inequality and injustice.
The right to engage in First Amendment activity is paramount to the movement. There’s ample evidence to show that having a 24/7 physical presence in communities has been critical to the movement’s ability to continue to have an impact. And since it looks like New York and other cities are willing to use maximum force to prevent 24/7 physical presences, the movement might need to pivot and focus on the stormtroopers of Wall Street and all other forces in the country that make it nearly impossible for citizens to protest the policies of inequality and injustice created and maintained by the wealthy and those that serve the 1%.