The Anti-Economist — From the March 2013 issue

The Fall and Rise of Occupy Wall Street

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The most effective strategy of suppression was mass arrest. When the protesters organized a march across the Brooklyn Bridge two weeks after the occupation began, hundreds were arrested and bound with zip ties. In many cases, marchers were offered conditional dismissals — in essence, told they would not be held responsible for the initial charge unless they committed another offense. This naturally had a chilling effect on future protests. Who would risk a second charge and possible jail time? Targeted preemptive arrests were commonplace before major rallies. One protester was arrested on two warrants for public urination from 2007, though the real offender was a different person with the same name. An obscure and usually unenforced 1845 law criminalizing the wearing of masks at public gatherings was used to justify the arrest of occupiers in bandanas.

In a report published last summer, the Protest and Assembly Rights Project — a group of justice clinics housed at major law schools, including those of Fordham, Harvard, New York, and Stanford Universities — documented 130 examples of excessive use of force by the NYPD during the occupation and in the months afterward, actions that violated protesters’ civil rights and the terms of various international human rights treaties.

Many acts of police aggression were captured on tape. One week into the occupation, a deputy inspector named Anthony Bologna pepper sprayed a group of women with no apparent provocation. (After a video of the event went up on YouTube, Bologna became the only officer to be disciplined for misconduct relating to the protests, losing ten vacation days.) During a march near Union Square, a café worker stepped outside to record footage. Though not a participant in the demonstration, he was thrown to the ground by a police officer. The officer — whose white shirt signified that he was of high rank — then accused the man of obstruction of justice. That same day, police pulled a marcher from behind the orange netting used to “kettle” — that is, corral and cordon off — protesters, brought her to the ground, and dragged her along by the straps of her backpack. Three officers held her head down while she was arrested. Further examples are too numerous to dismiss as the actions of a few stray cops. At the very least, it’s evident the police department was not controlling its own.

The eviction of the encampment, in the early hours of November 15, 2011, involved yet further instances of excessive force. A former New York Supreme Court justice, serving as an independent legal observer of the police, witnessed an officer throw a protester to the ground and hit her in the head. When the observer asked the officer why he had done it, he pushed her up against a wall and asked if she wanted to be arrested. A New York City councilman was pushed to the ground and arrested. The use of batons and pepper spray and the dragging of protesters were well documented by witnesses. One reason these abuses didn’t get more attention was that the mayor imposed a media blackout on the eviction raid — in itself probably a violation of international human rights agreements. A local CBS affiliate claimed that the NYPD kept its news helicopter from filming police action, though only the Federal Aviation Administration has authority to close airspace. Examples of violence against reporters were also plentiful.

Before the eviction, police placed a manned watchtower at Zuccotti Park. Occupiers asserted that their apartments were under NYPD surveillance. If this sounds fanciful, consider that the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund obtained reports in December showing that both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security had monitored and investigated occupiers. In the FBI’s case, this began before the park was even taken over: the bureau had informed officials at the New York Stock Exchange of impending protests a month before they began.

Of course the police have a duty to maintain order, and many officers were accommodating, some even friendly. But U.S. and international law allows police to use force only in proportion to any offense. It’s clear from many documented cases that police response was out of all proportion to any provocation. Taken together, the coordinated and disproportionate actions of the NYPD, the FBI, and Homeland Security represent a campaign of suppression without which OWS might well have evolved into something more formidable, even in the cold of New York City’s winter.

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