Saturday, October 22, 2011
Why Are Police Attacking Peaceful Protesters?
How OWS Has Exposed the Militarization of US Law Enforcement
by Rania Khalek
As the number of Occupy Wall Street arrests nears 1,000, instances of police brutality continue to pile up. Felix Rivera-Pitre was punched in the face in New York during a march through the city’s financial district; Ryan Hadar was dragged out of the street by his thumbs at Occupy San Francisco; and at Occupy Boston, members of Veterans for Peace were shoved to the ground and dragged away for chanting and peacefully occupying a local park.
These efforts to intimidate the protesters are symptoms of three decades of policies that have militarized civilian law enforcement. Sgt. Shamar Thomas, a
marine at the Occupy Wall
Street protests, was so appalled by the behavior of the NYPD that he loudly
confronted a group of 30 officers, shouting at
"This is not a war zone. These are unarmed people. It does not make you tough to hurt these people. If you want to go fight, go to
Stop hurting these people, man, why y’all doing this to our people? Why are
y’all gearing up like this is war? There are no bullets flying out here." Afghanistan
Police repression in
hardly new. Low-income neighborhoods, communities of color and political
activists have always had to deal with unneccassary shows of force by some
police officers. Thanks to a populist uprising threatening a status quo that
benefits the top tier of American society to the detriment of the bottom 99
percent, many Americans for the first time are witnessing the America police
state in action. U.S.
As Occupation Spreads, So Does the Police State
A clear pattern has emerged in the response to occupations throughout the country, from
Francisco to ,
involving midnight raids by heavily armed paramilitary units of riot police
deployed to enforce park curfews. Denver
Protesters at Occupy San Francisco are familiar with the routine. They have endured multiple late-night police raids on their encampment in
, the most brutal of
which took place Sunday, Oct. 16. Minutes before midnight and with the approval
of Mayor Ed Lee (who is currently running for reelection and claims to be
supportive of the movement's overall message), 70 police officers decked out in
full riot gear marched into the encampment to enforce a 10pm curfew. They
dismantled tents, tarps, the medical station and the kitchen, along with some
personal belongings, all of which were loaded onto Department of Public Works
trucks. Justin Herman
Some 200 protesters resisted peacefully, locking arms to prevent the police invasion, which was met with a frighteningly violent response. According to theSan Francisco Bay Guardian, one protester received a lengthy beat-down for duct-taping his body to a pole inside the camp. The police allegedly "ripped him off the pole, threw him to the ground and struck him in the head and ribs. When he left by ambulance a few hours later, he appeared to be convulsing or seizing," reported the Bay Guardian.
Protesters using their bodies to block the DPW trucks from leaving were dragged out of the street, some by their fingers and thumbs. Those who locked arms to form a human chain were pulled apart and thrown onto the sidewalk.
Ryan Hadar, 19, described his experience to the Guardian: “They bent back my thumbs, trying to pry me away from the people I was locking arms with. When I asked if they were trying to break my thumbs [one officer] replied, ‘Only if I have to.’ Then they dragged me to the sidewalk by my index finger. I asked if they were trying to break my finger, and this time they replied, ‘Yes.’"
After destroying the campsite, sending one activist to the hospital and arresting at least five protesters, the police departed from the scene around 1:40am.
Days earlier, an eerily similar situation unfolded at Occupy Denver. Just as
Zuccotti Park was celebrating victory over Mayor Bloomberg's
failed eviction attempt last Friday, Denver's
was being dismantled at the request of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. With
the combined efforts of the Colorado State Patrol and Denver Police, two dozen
protesters were arrested and charged with unlawful conduct on public land. Lincoln Park
Two weeks ago, protesters at Occupy Boston in Dewey Park faced police suppression in a late-night raid that led to 129 arrests and multiple injuries involving several members of Veterans for Peace. According to the Associated Press, nine protesters occupying
Sacramento's were arrested late
Wednesday night for failing to leave the park after closing, bringing the total
of Occupy Sacramento arrests to 67. Cesar Chavez
The authorities justify these late-night raids as necessary to enforce park curfews. Yet, even during the day, the mere presence of heavily armed riot police inevitably results in some police action that baffles the mind. For example, Debra Lynn Peardon was arrested for opening her umbrella while seated, a violation of a
ban on the use of umbrellas as makeshift structures regardless of the weather. new city
Peaceful Arrests In
With the blessing of
's mayor, Rahm
Emanuel, the Chicago Police Department arrested
175 protesters last weekend for refusing to leave Grant Park, the site
of Occupy Chicago, citing a violation of the park's curfew. As reported by Joe
Macaré of In These Times, protesters showered praise on
the Chicago Police Department for showing restraint by arresting them "One
by one, and by all accounts as peacefully as possible," in stark contrast
to the violent arrests experienced at other occupations. Chicago
But the jailing of peaceful protesters is wrong, even when carried out free of beatings and pepper spray. This was epitomized by the arrest of
civil rights activist Cornel
West on the steps outside the Supreme Court, where it is illegal to
hold a political sign. A ban on political protest outside the halls of the
highest court in the country is an ironic symbol of how little regard is given
to the First Amendment of the constitution. Princeton
Inevitable Outcomes of Militarized Law Enforcement
Occupy Wall Street has revealed to the country and the world an American police state apparatus that rivals most standing armies in both weaponry and magnitude.
Nowhere is this more clear than in
where a perimeter of metal barricades surrounds and even follows protesters
from New York City Zuccotti Square
on their daily marches. Nick Turse recently documented the extent of the NYPD's
mini-police state for AlterNet:
I counted seven squad cars, two full-size police vans, one police minivan and one, to lapse into political incorrectness, “paddy wagon.”
Later in the morning, the total count had increased to 16 police vehicles, in addition to a number of unmarked cars, most of which proved to belong to police officers, too.
Across Broadway and up Liberty Street, the security forces maintained a reserve contingent of 11 police cars, five police vans, and one paddy wagon from precincts all over the city: the 1st, 5th, 9th, 10th, 13th, 20th, 83rd, 94th (Brooklyn!), as well as the Fleet Services Division which oversees the NYPD’s inventory of cars.
This level of overwhelming police presence, along with the disproportionate and combative force directed at peaceful, unarmed protesters, alarms Americans previously unaware of the increasingly militaristic nature of American law enforcement.
Rania Khalek is an associate writer for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @RaniaKhalek.