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Archive for the tag “Police Brutality”

Occupy Highlights Authoritarian Behavior by Police

A funny thing happens when one uses the term “police state” to describe behavior by authorities in response to the Occupy protests. Very Serious Company turns pale and insists that the United States is not turning into a police state—at least not yet. America isn’t North Korea or East Germany or Russia, for goodness sake, Very Serious Company continues. Police don’t physically snatch journalists off the streets and murder them in back alleys, so no one has the right to label the United States a “police state.”

Yet what the Occupy Wall Street protests have helped reveal is that it is this hesitancy to acknowledge the authoritarian behavior of police that gives them cover when they—along with city officials—blatantly violate the rights of citizens.

Wall Street Mercenaries

Back in October, I wrote about how Occupy helped to highlight the problem of disappearing public space. Many Occupy camps (Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston and Zuccotti Park in New York City, for example) were built in parks owned by a mixture of public and private interests, and it was this private half of the partnership that gave authorities cover when they moved in to destroy the camps.

After all, private property is private property. When presented with this aphorism, people tend to imagine dirty hippies wrestling their own beloved possessions from their arms when, in fact, private companies often receive a far sweeter deal with the state than average citizens.

Brookfield Properties, the company that owns Zuccotti Park, owes $139,000 in back taxes. The company, on whose board Mayor Bloomberg’s girlfriend Diana Taylor sits, didn’t pay its taxes in 2009… or 2008…or 2007. Or 2006. This means that Brookfield is permitted to own the land for a song, and taxpayers step in to fill the revenue void. Then, when actual taxpayers attempted to use the land, Mayor Bloomberg’s private army rushed in to immediately defend the land on behalf of Brookfield.

Along with the NYPD, private security contractors such as MSA Security, defended Zuccotti from the First Amendment. Kevin Conner, co-founder of Public Accountability Initiative, reports:

MSA Security (formerly Michael Stapleton Associates), has even stronger ties to the NYPD. MSA Security, which advertises itself as being “In the business of business as usual,” listed Brookfield Properties on its website until a few days ago, but the client list has since been taken down. The google cache is available here. MSA’s clients in the financial sector include AIG, Goldman Sachs, NYSE Euronext (the stock exchange), and Bank of America. It also provides security services to Fox News and a number of real estate firms, including World Trade Center site developer Silverstein Properties.

Retired Philadelphia police captain Ray Lewis refers to the NYPD as “Wall Street mercenaries,” which is an apt title given that JPMorgan Chase made a massive $4.6 million donation to the NYPD, the largest such gift in the history of the New York City Police Foundation.

As massive corporations buy up public space and police forces, protesters are faced with the impossible task of facing off with police who increasingly work on behalf of Wall Street, and not the American people.

Free Speech Zones

In late November, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa released a midnight press release in anticipation of a raid on Occupy LA, which included this line: “During the park closure, a First Amendment area will remain open on the Spring Street City Hall steps.” The absurdity of that statement should be immediately apparent to anyone who understands how real journalism works. Good reporters don’t obediently stand in a “First Amendment area,” deliberately placed far away from the heart of the story. Reporters need to be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with protesters precisely so they can witness how the police interact with them.

Earlier in the month, journalist Josh Harkinson reported on being alerted to the existence of something called the “frozen zone” when he attempted to cover the eviction of Zuccotti.

A white-shirted officer moved in with a bullhorn. “If you don’t leave the park you are subject to arrest. Now is your opportunity to leave the park.”

Nobody budged. As a lone drum pounded, I climbed up on the wall to get a better view.

“Can I help you?” an burly officer asked me, his helpfulness belied by his scowl.

“I’m a reporter,” I told him.

“This is a frozen zone, all right?” he said, using a term I’d never heard before. “Just like them, you have to leave the area. If you do not, you will be subject to arrest.”

He grabbed my arm and began dragging me off. My shoes skidded across the park’s slimy granite floor. All around me, zip-cuffed occupiers writhed on the ground beneath a fog of chemicals.

“I just want to witness what is going on here,” I yelped.

“You can witness it with the rest of the press,” he said. Which, of course, meant not witnessing it.

“Why are you excluding the press from observing this?” I asked.

“Because this is a frozen zone. It’s a police action going on. You could be injured.”

His meaning was clear. I let myself be hustled across the street to the press pen.

“What’s your name?”

His reply came as fast as he could turn away: “Watch your back.”

The “frozen zone” is an arbitrary title that the NYPD simply made up. Like Villaraigosa’s “First Amendment zone,” it has zero legal merit and was created to suppress the media coverage of the Occupy raids. In early December, Occupiers once again encountered the frozen zone when they turned out to protest outside a swank fundraising dinner starring President Obama (corporate donors paid between $1,000 and $36,000 a plate).

Jeff Smith, a longtime OWS protester, tweeted that the “Free Speech zone has been officially ‘frozen’ until Obama is all clear.”

Journalist Andrew Katz reported that he and Josh Harkinson were escorted by three NYPD officers from 53rd Street and Seventh Avenue because they “weren’t allowed in the frozen zone with about 100 people.”

“I was doing nothing but…doing my job”

In addition to being harassed and intimidated, journalists also have to fear extended detention times, and in some cases, physical abuse. According to Josh Stearns, director at Free Press, 34 journalists have been arrested since the beginning of Occupy. While I don’t have the space to tell all of their stories, here are a couple examples of press intimidation by police.

Independent journalist John Knefel, whose work has appeared in Salon, was arrested December 13 for the crime of filming police actions during an Occupy protest. Knefel and a majority of the 16 other individuals arrested with him were held in prison for more than 36 hours. Several members of the Occupy 17, as they’re now called, were punished with extended detention times after they refused en masse to submit to an eye scan.

Along with methods like fingerprinting and mug shots, the NYPD now uses iris scanners as part of an effort to “improve security and safeguard identities.” Jailed individuals are given the option to decline such an eye scan, but warned that doing so may slow down their processing. Knefel told me a couple of the Occupy 17 had to get out of jail quickly to go to their jobs, so they submitted to the scans. The rest of the Occupy 17, however, were held in prison for the full 36 hours.

NPR reported on the controvery surrounding eye scanners, namely that the technology could be used for “facial profiling,” concerns over how the massive database of scanned images will be managed, and privacy worries centered around facial recognition software that can easily identify individuals from far away.

Another troubling testimony emerged when Democracy Now journalist Ryan Devereaux tweeted in disturbing detail abuse he and his colleague suffered at the hands of the NYPD. An officer jammed his fist into Devereaux’s throat and told him to “get the fuck back” despite Devereaux repeatedly informing the officer he’s press. His credentialed cameraman suffered an arguably worse fate when an officer punched him in the kidney three times.

“My neck is red, my press pass was ripped. I was going nothing but standing on the sidewalk doing my job,” Devereaux tweeted.

Since the beginning of Occupy, over 5600 individuals have been arrested and all major Occupy camps have been raided and shut down. The cases of abuse suffered by protesters at the hands of police are literally too numerous to name, but readers surely have images of an officer casually pepper-spraying UC Davis Protesters, and a pepper-sprayed 84-year-old woman, burned into their minds.

The simple truth that “things could be worse,” can’t distract us from the reality that things are quite bad right now. It’s virtually impossible for protesters to exercise their First Amendment rights, and now it’s increasingly difficult for press (even credentialed press) to report this abuse.

Americans are taught in school that moments of great social change always come when the public demands them, but what happens when the state no longer permits the public to make such demands?

Against the Dogmatic Fetishization of Non-Violence

From: occupyphillymedia.org

 by edaverynatale 

Note: Nothing contained within here is meant to spur anyone to commit acts of violence.  While I am a defender of violence and threats thereof as a tactic, I do not necessarily believe that our movement is in a place to begin committing these acts (though I think we should stand in solidarity with those who choose to do so, such as some in Oakland and elsewhere).  It seems to me that, at this stage, it might be most important to build linkages with others outside of our movement, and if violence alienates those individuals, then perhaps it is a tactic best not used in the name of Occupy at this point in time (though I think we should leave that open to debate rather than assuming from the outset that violence is an illegitimate tactic).  Instead, this article is meant to challenge the notion that violence is never acceptable and that only non-violent means serve legitimate purposes in a movement.  I also do not intend this article to fetishize violence—I believe that both tactics have merit, and that both have a time and place.

Note 2: The first few paragraphs of this article involve some “theory” before moving on to pragmatics.  I hope you’ll work through it! 

Tonight, Occupy Philly will be holding a candlelight vigil for non-violence.  The Facebook page for this even reads, “We invite our allies and friends to join us in expressing our earnest desire for continued nonviolence and an ongoing, peaceful dialogue with the City of Philadelphia.”  It is unclear to me what use this language serves in light of recent events.  While a candlelight vigil against the physical assaults on our comrades in New York, Oakland and elsewhere makes sense, the simple fact of the matter is that the vast majority of violence that has been committed at Occupy protests nationally has been committed not by Occupiers, but by authorities such as the police, in apparent collusion with the federal government.  So why is the candlelight vigil directed primarily at us?  What use does it serve?

It seems to me that throughout the Occupies nationally, there has been a dogmatic Fetishization of non-violence; there has practically emerged a religious cult of the non-violent who are hijacking any other messages and denouncing the “sinners” of “a diversity of tactics” (seen above: are those who might consider using violence not your friends and allies?  Are they not the 1%?  Are we not the proletariat?).  When I use the term “fetishization,” I mean it in its’ philosophical rather than sexual articulation (though it would be a mistake to construct these as wholly separate conceptual categories).  When something, such as an object or other man-made construct, is fetishized it is endowed with supernatural powers and is believed to have an inherent value unto itself and independent of any other existential reality of the object.  In the work of Karl Marx, the idea of fetishes in relation to commodity fetishism is used to describe something that people obsess over or concentrate on that prevents them from seeing the truth of the object or system in place.  To move Marx’s analysis away from economics, we could say that the symbolic value of something is transformed into an inherent and objective value that the object has unto itself, which the fetishizer may treat as an axiom of the object.

In short, it is my opinion that we have seen such a value attributed to the concept of non-violence.   Non-violence as a tactic has been treated by many in the Occupies as the starting point of dialogue rather than something to be debated.  Non-violence is treated with a value inherent to itself that does not require dialogue, debate, or dialectical reasoning—in short, it is treated as if its value is axiomatic. When violent acts occur, even if those acts are of violence against something as arbitrary and unethical as private property—which is only itself every created and protected by the violence of the state, the capitalists, and alienated labor—those who have broken windows or some other such thing are immediately denounced (I would say that they are thrown under the bus, but I suspect that many on the side of pacifism would reject the violent metaphor).  Often these individuals are assumed to be anarchists—and perhaps they are—but so what?  There are both violent and non-violent anarchists.  Must you homogenize and represent the group for us?  And is our Occupation solidarity so weak that it breaks as easily as the glass on a storefront window the minute the religion of non-violence is confronted with an act that might be interpreted as violent?  Are the pacifists so certain that their method is not only best, but that it actually works, that the very possibility of some other form of action need be removed from the table, necessarily?

The simple fact of the matter is that radical social change has never taken place without either violence or at least the threat thereof.  Even the saints of the church of non-violence would often have not been successful if violence had not at least been on the table: Martin Luther King Jr. was successful in part because groups such as the Black Panthers, armed and ready, scared the white establishment so much that King’s non-violent methods seemed more acceptable.  Gandhi’s movement in India was in part successful because of the horrors of World War II, which bankrupted England.  In addition, there were violent activists in India at this time too, who are not often heard from in history texts.

However, if the dogmatic fetishization of non-violence is going to be enforced by the Occupying Powers That Be, then I encourage the following: either at tonight’s candlelight vigil, or at a future General Assembly, denounce the following, even if retrospectively: The Boston Tea Party, The American Revolution, The French Revolution, Native Americans fighting against colonization, slave uprisings against their masters and the racist American government, non-pacifist uprisings of poor people against the bourgeois ruling elite in America and the rest of the world, race riots in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, sabotage on behalf of workers in the 1930s or slaves in the American south, the events of May 1968, the Spanish Civil War, the acts of the Zapatistas in Mexico, the acts of the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement (AIM), the Arab Spring, the Greek insurrectionists, the Weathermen, John Brown, Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Malcolm X… the list, of course, goes on… in short, denounce many of our radical forebrothers and foresisters who gave their freedom, blood and lives for a cause greater than themselves, who recognized that at times violence was a necessary tool.  History teaches us repeatedly that the state will use violence, and that the state is only ever—EVER—threatened when violence is at least a possibility on behalf of the people.

Non-violence is one tool among many, and it is a legitimate tool with man wonderful and beautiful uses, and I encourage everyone to participate in non-violent acts, and I respect individuals who for personal or religious reasons will never be able to bring themselves to engage in acts of violence.  But to engage in the dogmatic fetishization of non-violence, to become an adherent to the church of non-violence, will only work to separate us.  Historically, the state has worked hard to separate movements.  We see examples of this at least as early as 1636 when the state of Virginia passed laws granting advantages to the White indentured servants while placing all Black servants in permanent slavery.  The state of Virginia was scared because a united working class was rising up and using acts of sabotage and violence against them.  We see many such examples of historical splitting of movements, of ways of keeping us looking at each other rather than at the “1%” who are entirely willing to use violence against us as well as against our brothers and sisters in Iraq, Afghanistan and anywhere else that the neo-liberal power structure is challenged.

We in Philadelphia have so far been left alone, more or less, by the police.  This will inevitably not last.  However, our brothers and sisters around the country and the world have not been so lucky, and they have been fighting back.  Who are any of we to judge what they need to do to continue this movement?

When they kick out your front door, how you gonna come?  With your hands on your head or on the trigger of your gun?  ~The Clash~

Finding Freedom in Handcuffs

Published on Monday, November 7, 2011 by TruthDig.com

 

Editor’s note: Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, an activist, an author and a member of a reporting team that won a 2002 Pulitzer Prize, wrote this article after he was released from custody following his arrest last Thursday. He and about 15 other participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement were detained as they protested outside the global headquarters of Goldman Sachs in lower Manhattan.Police arrest Occupy Wall Street protesters as they staged a sit-down at Goldman Sachs headquarters on Thursday in New York. (AP / Bebeto Matthews)

Faces appeared to me moments before the New York City police arrested us Thursday in front of Goldman Sachs. They were not the faces of the smug Goldman Sachs employees, who peered at us through the revolving glass doors and lobby windows, a pathetic collection of middle-aged fraternity and sorority members. They were not the faces of the blue-uniformed police with their dangling cords of white and black plastic handcuffs, or the thuggish Goldman Sachs security personnel, whose buzz cuts and dead eyes reminded me of the East German secret police, the Stasi. They were not the faces of the demonstrators around me, the ones with massive student debts and no jobs, the ones whose broken dreams weigh them down like a cross, the ones whose anger and betrayal triggered the street demonstrations and occupations for justice. They were not the faces of the onlookers—the construction workers, who seemed cheered by the march on Goldman Sachs, or the suited businessmen who did not. They were faraway faces. They were the faces of children dying. They were tiny, confused, bewildered faces I had seen in the southern Sudan, Gaza and the slums of Brazzaville, Nairobi, Cairo and Delhi and the wars I covered. They were faces with large, glassy eyes, above bloated bellies. They were the small faces of children convulsed by the ravages of starvation and disease.

I carry these faces. They do not leave me. I look at my own children and cannot forget them, these other children who never had a chance. War brings with it a host of horrors, including famine, but the worst is always the human detritus that war and famine leave behind, the small, frail bodies whose tangled limbs and vacant eyes condemn us all. The wealthy and the powerful, the ones behind the glass at Goldman Sachs, laughed and snapped pictures of us as if we were a brief and odd lunchtime diversion from commodities trading, from hoarding and profit, from this collective sickness of money worship, as if we were creatures in a cage, which in fact we soon were.

A glass tower filled with people carefully selected for the polish and self-assurance that come with having been formed in institutions of privilege, whose primary attributes are a lack of consciousness, a penchant for deception and an incapacity for empathy or remorse. The curious onlookers behind the windows and we, arms locked in a circle on the concrete outside, did not speak the same language. Profit. Globalization. War. National security. These are the words they use to justify the snuffing out of tiny lives, acts of radical evil. Goldman Sachs’ commodities index is the most heavily traded in the world. Those who trade it have, by buying up and hoarding commodities futures, doubled and tripled the costs of wheat, rice and corn. Hundreds of millions of poor across the globe are going hungry to feed this mania for profit. The technical jargon, learned in business schools and on trading floors, effectively mask the reality of what is happening—murder. These are words designed to make systems operate, even systems of death, with a cold neutrality. Peace, love and all sane affirmative speech in temples like Goldman Sachs are, as W.H. Auden understood, “soiled, profaned, debased to a horrid mechanical screech.”

We seemed to have lost, at least until the advent of the Occupy Wall Street movement, not only all personal responsibility but all capacity for personal judgment. Corporate culture absolves all of responsibility. This is part of its appeal. It relieves all from moral choice. There is an unequivocal acceptance of ruling principles such as unregulated capitalism and globalization as a kind of natural law. The steady march of corporate capitalism requires a passive acceptance of new laws and demolished regulations, of bailouts in the trillions of dollars and the systematic looting of public funds, of lies and deceit. The corporate culture, epitomized by Goldman Sachs, has seeped into our classrooms, our newsrooms, our entertainment systems and our consciousness. This corporate culture has stripped us of the right to express ourselves outside of the narrowly accepted confines of the established political order. It has turned us into compliant consumers. We are forced to surrender our voice. These corporate machines, like fraternities and sororities, also haze new recruits in company rituals, force them to adopt an unrelenting cheerfulness, a childish optimism and obsequiousness to authority. These corporate rituals, bolstered by retreats and training seminars, by grueling days that sometimes end with initiates curled up under their desks to sleep, ensure that only the most morally supine remain. The strong and independent are weeded out early so only the unquestioning advance upward. Corporate culture serves a faceless system. It is, as Hannah Arendt writes, “the rule of nobody and for this very reason perhaps the least human and most cruel form of rulership.”

Our political class, and its courtiers on the airwaves, insists that if we refuse to comply, if we step outside of the Democratic Party, if we rebel, we will make things worse. This game of accepting the lesser evil enables the steady erosion of justice and corporate plundering. It enables corporations to harvest the nation and finally the global economy, reconfiguring the world into neofeudalism, one of masters and serfs. This game goes on until there is hardly any action carried out by the power elite that is not a crime. It goes on until corporate predators, who long ago decided the nation and the planet were not worth salvaging, seize the last drops of wealth. It goes on until moral acts, such as calling for those inside the corporate headquarters of Goldman Sachs to be tried, see you jailed, and the crimes of financial fraud and perjury are upheld as lawful and rewarded by the courts, the U.S. Treasury and the Congress. And all this is done so a handful of rapacious, immoral plutocrats like Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs who sucks down about $250,000 a day and who lied to the U.S. Congress as well as his investors and the public, can use their dirty money to retreat into their own Forbidden City or Versailles while their underlings, basking in the arrogance of power, snap amusing photos of the rabble outside their gates being hauled away by the police and company goons.

It is vital that the occupation movements direct attention away from their encampments and tent cities, beset with the usual problems of hastily formed open societies where no one is turned away. Attention must be directed through street protests, civil disobedience and occupations toward the institutions that are carrying out the assaults against the 99 percent. Banks, insurance companies, courts where families are being foreclosed from their homes, city offices that put these homes up for auction, schools, libraries and firehouses that are being closed, and corporations such as General Electric that funnel taxpayer dollars into useless weapons systems and do not pay taxes, as well as propaganda outlets such as the New York Post and its evil twin, Fox News, which have unleashed a vicious propaganda war against us, all need to be targeted, shut down and occupied. Goldman Sachs is the poster child of all that is wrong with global capitalism, but there are many other companies whose degradation and destruction of human life are no less egregious.

It is always the respectable classes, the polished Ivy League graduates, the prep school boys and girls who grew up in Greenwich, Conn., or Short Hills, N.J., who are the most susceptible to evil. To be intelligent, as many are at least in a narrow, analytical way, is morally neutral. These respectable citizens are inculcated in their elitist enclaves with “values” and “norms,” including pious acts of charity used to justify their privilege, and a belief in the innate goodness of American power. They are trained to pay deference to systems of authority. They are taught to believe in their own goodness, unable to see or comprehend—and are perhaps indifferent to—the cruelty inflicted on others by the exclusive systems they serve. And as norms mutate and change, as the world is steadily transformed by corporate forces into one of a small cabal of predators and a vast herd of human prey, these elites seamlessly replace one set of “values” with another. These elites obey the rules. They make the system work. And they are rewarded for this. In return, they do not question.

Those who resist—the doubters, outcasts, renegades, skeptics and rebels—rarely come from the elite. They ask different questions. They seek something else—a life of meaning. They have grasped Immanuel Kant’s dictum, “If justice perishes, human life on Earth has lost its meaning.” And in their search they come to the conclusion that, as Socrates said, it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. This conclusion is rational, yet cannot be rationally defended. It makes a leap into the moral, which is beyond rational thought. It refuses to place a monetary value on human life. It acknowledges human life, indeed all life, as sacred. And this is why, as Arendt points out, the only morally reliable people when the chips are down are not those who say “this is wrong,” or “this should not be done,” but those who say “I can’t.”

There are streaks in my lungs, traces of the tuberculosis that I picked up around hundreds of dying Sudanese during the famine I covered as a foreign correspondent. I was strong and privileged and fought off the disease. They were not and did not. The bodies, most of them children, were dumped into hastily dug mass graves. The scars I carry within me are the whispers of these dead. They are the faint marks of those who never had a chance to become men or women, to fall in love and have children of their own. I carried these scars to the doors of Goldman Sachs. I had returned to living. Those whose last breaths had marked my lungs had not. I placed myself at the feet of these commodity traders to call for justice because the dead, and those who are dying in slums and refugee camps across the planet, could not make this journey. I see their faces. They haunt me in the day and come to me in the dark. They force me to remember. They make me choose sides. As the metal handcuffs were fastened around my wrists I thought of them, as I often think of them, and I said to myself: “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty I am free at last.”

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