Thursday, October 6, 2011

”The Police Have Kettled the March on Brooklyn Bridge”

Contributed by Richard Chilton

In an act widely reported on the Internet-based alternative media, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) made a tactical error with its premeditated theatre piece on October 1st in guiding Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstrators assembled in downtown Manhattan to first walk freely onto a roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge, and then corral or kettle them by the hundreds in a deliberate attempt to intimidate and cower the growing Movement.

Five demonstrators, “as Class Representatives on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated,” allege the NYC police on October 1, 2011 to have:

1...engaged in an unconstitutional effort to disrupt and suppress the ability of the people to come together and advocate for social change using the time-honored methods of mass assembly and collective action.

2.  ...(and) engaged in a premeditated, planned scripted and calculated effort to sweep the streets of protestors and disrupt a growing protest movement in New York.

The scripted play was first performed on September 23rd in Union Square Park; at that time, 80 OWS demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights - but without a permit to march - were arrested in much the same way as they were at the Brooklyn Bridge.  Using the rational of “blocking vehicular and pedestrian traffic” the police used orange plastic netting first to herd the group and then, for the arrests, bound hands with plastic zip ties.  

In as many as five instances pepper spray was used to disorient civilian participants.

Having been a longtime borough resident a quarter-century ago, I had participated in numerous demonstrations over the years where, as Jefferson Siegel of the local Manhattan newspaper The Villager reported on the OWS actions, “...the demonstrators were peaceful, more concerned with disseminating their message than with exhibiting defiance.” []

But “without incidence” was this March not to be.  Siegel quoted a member of the Granny Peace Brigade, Ann Shirazi, 66, who along with two other Seniors were among the 80 arrested. “Police were violently flinging people to the ground, grinding their faces into the pavement. They put their feet on people’s heads. It was a shocking and terrifying scene.”

Local reaction was swift to what was perceived as an overreaction by the police.  Over the next week where scores of people had assembled now hundreds gathered. Even an otherwise skeptical New York Times reporter noted how historically, local police attempts to disperse crowds in New York City have been approached “with a style that emphasizes micromanagement and obsessive pre-emption.”

Such micromanagement and obsessive pre-emption by the police was clearly in evidence at the Brooklyn Bridge.  While hundreds were being arrested the cry of “White Shirts! White Shirts!” was chanted by many, indicating the unusual, active presence of senior lieutenants, captains and inspectors who normally stand aside and direct the arresting process by “Blue Shirt” regular police officers.

This unusual presence of “White Shirts” which has been evident since the very start of the OWS Movement on September 17th may indicate a reluctance of the rank and file “Blue Shirts” follow the order of their superiors and arrest American citizens who are in fact protesting the diminution of public employee unions, such as teachers, firemen and the police, in other states and cities.

With the Chief of Police Joseph J. Esposito himself leading the pre-emptive action of steering the marchers onto the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge, the resultant mass arrest had sanction at the highest level, which would have included both Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the latter who had conjectured upon the possibility of “riots” throughout the country due to unemployment and poverty in a radio commentary broadcast September 17th. "The public is not happy... The public knows there is something wrong in this country, and there is. The bottom line is that they're upset." []

So to forestall public discontent, the Mayor allowed longstanding tactical policies of the NYPD to be pursued unheeded.

Chaz Valenza wrote on OpEd News:
“Police lead protesters on to the Brooklyn Bridge Roadway and arrest them.  Clearly entrapment according to those not arrested who took the walkway of the bridge.”[]
From Chicago, Marci Savage quoted references from dispatches originally published by the New York Times and other sources:
Over 500 were arrested yesterday when protestors attempted to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. Police had shut down traffic and appeared to be guiding protestors onto the bridge according to accounts from protestors and confirmed by law enforcement officials.
"Police Department highway cars escorted as many as 10 Department of Correction buses from Rikers Island to Lower Manhattan in preparation for what one law enforcement official said was “a planned move on the protesters.” []
The official said that the buses, which can carry roughly 20 prisoners each, were needed because of the expected large number of arrests and the need to transport those arrested to central booking."

Once protestors were a third of the way onto the bridge, officers rolled out orange barricades and started pulling protestors from the crowd one by one. There were no bullhorns. No warning to move off of the right of way and onto the sidewalks.  

Police escorting protests on streets are not unusual. Several protests have been performed utilizing police escorts to cross large numbers of individuals from one location to another safely. Protestors initially thought this was what was occurring.

“The cops watched and did nothing, indeed, seemed to guide us on to the roadway,” said Jesse A. Myerson, a media coordinator for Occupy Wall Street who was in the march but was not arrested.

An anonymous posting on Freakout Nation rephrased the same reportage, adding that “...the protesters remained peaceful as the police officers plucked them out one by one in a scripted effort to quiet this movement which is picking up in other states around the country.” []

This latter point was also spoken to by Pham Binh of the New York Independent: []
“Like in Egypt, every time they back down and let marches happen it bolsters the confidence of OWS; every time they clamp down, it infuriates people who are barely paying attention and support for OWS grows.”
Of course the cops will claim the activists were “blocking traffic,” but why let them march onto the bridge to begin with if that was really the concern? Most likely, this is a test to see how OWS reacts and how the public reacts.

And that is exactly the script the police are stumbling over.  

Throughout the United States and much of the world, the police are held accountable under the colour of civilian authority of law to protect both life and property; this is a good thing, because civilian control, in theory, checks the propensity of an armed, paramilitary-trained force to overreact.

However, as fellow blogger Liandra Dahl points on this website (September 24th):
Police forces around the world are revealing themselves to be a fascist institution that will not uphold laws that protect people and their right to protest. They play pick and mix with which laws they uphold and unsurprisingly they uphold the laws that protect the rich and corporate America by keep revolution and dissent down. (italics added).
Part of the basis for the police upholding the laws of the rich and powerful over those who dissent is how they are trained in the first place.  By definition, to be trained militarily is to become aware of the plausibility of using lethal force (“kill, or be killed”), which is to say for the police as well as the soldier: to suspect everyone in every situation one encounters as being a potential lethal assailant, and trust no one but your fellow officers.

How can the police be accepted by civilians “serving the community as ‘protectors’” when one is trained (militarily speaking) to suspect everyone?

All of us, certainly in our adults lives, can see the (re)actions of the police in this light.  I have faced down the barrel of a nine millimeter pistol where the officer holding the gun was more afraid in having to use it than I was in receiving its possible discharge.

Many police officers who enter the force do so because the hierarchy of command suits their need of self-control.  There are many reasons for this, most of them dealing with the inability of culture to address the realities of multi-generational, unresolved trauma among individuals and families, a source of where the capacity for violence comes from in human beings.  

When such unresolved trauma becomes institutionalized, as with armies and the police, micromanagement, obsessive pre-emption, and overreaction inevitably occurs. This is because these “styles” are the result of the human psyche’s blockage from the unresolved trauma culturally built into the institutional response.  

So it is that the police (and later military) attempts to contain and control the actualities of peaceful civilian protest across the planet are often turned around in favor of the dissidents because of the predictability of paramilitary-trained reaction and its institutional propensity to over-respond.  

In contemplating the Wall Street actions, for example, OWS organizers deliberately chose Zucotti Park as a staging area because the legal status of utilization of publicly accessible, private space has been rarely tested in court.

This is the basis for the NYPD to have repeatedly said that no attempt was to be made by the Department to impede the OWS folks “occupying the space” at Zucotti Park itself.

When this public space was originally created in 1968 in downtown Manhattan it was in conjunction with construction of what was then-known as the U.S. Steel Building.  The developers at the time had received a variance from the City for an extra 50,000 square footage of building space in exchange for creating a three-quarter acre park.

Irreparably damaged on September 11, 2001, the park’s current owners, Brookdale Office Properties, spent $8 million in a creative renovation of then-named Liberty Plaza Park that introduced trees, flowerbeds, walkways and benches to the space.  Brookdale renamed the space Zucotti Park for John Zucotti, in honor of Brookdale’s Chairman and the New York City’s former point man for private development of another downtown property originally city-owned (where piers used to be), the landfilled Battery Park City.

Between the Union Square and Brooklyn Bridge incidents Brookdale tried to change the rules governing Zucotti Park but OWS participants reacted creatively.  In one instance, reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Brookfield posted rules against a range of behaviors such as laying tarps, sleeping bags and personal property on the ground.

Previously, the only rules posted in the park prohibited skateboarding, rollerblading and bicycling. Men in suits tried to pass out printed copies of the rules, but protesters refused and chanted "Don't take the papers". So they put stacks on benches and tables, prompting the protesters to accuse them of littering.

And that is how the theatre of dissent is being played out not only in downtown New York City but in scores of cities across the country and even internationally. As of this writing (October 3rd) there are 147 locales in 47 states and the District of Columbia (including Dr. Dodson’s hometown of Wichita, Kansas), and 28 cities in 13 countries, including Canada, Mexico, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Slovena, Great Britain, the Czech Republic, Australia and Japan where occupy actions are being organized.

So by following their own obsession with micromanaged pre-emption to break the back of dissent, the local police in over 150 locales now have an entire Occupy MOVEMENT to contend with, albeit just beginning.

While it remains to be seen whether or not Occupy will evolve into a worldwide phenomenon, it’s obviously clear that the New York City Police blundered themselves into a much bigger frying pan than they ever expected.  As New York journalist and activist Don Debar said during a broadcast interview on RT:  “This has the potential in the environment of, where people are frightened and have no confidence in their structure, of becoming explosive.” [Occupy Everything: 'US protests have explosive potential' - RT]

Debar was then asked about his reaction to the police response:
Well, the most important thing is what’s going to be the impact it has...See, before, many of these people who are now hurting that were formally middle class or believe were middle class while they were spending borrowed money, are starting to feel the wrong end of the Billy Club, or see their kids with the wrong end of the Billy Club.  And so what they saw before when minority kids were getting beating up on television as something alien to them, they’re going to internalize it very quickly, and you’re going to see a huge turnaround I think, in what the public’s perception of where they stand in relation to the power structure as a direct consequence of the police beating people up who are making legitimate demands basically, for the right to live in security.

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