I’ve spent the past few days reviewing the stories and protest video from September 17, the first anniversary of the Occupy Movement. I should start by saying that the organizers did some amazing work, putting together a week of activities and teach-ins, and organizing a big, complicated protest for Monday morning. In effect, the financial district was shut down for a time, and the NYPD did it themselves. I had made it to Broadway later in the morning, and the blocks around the stock market were a no-go zone–people were not allowed on the street without photo id from an employer in the area. Kinda slowed down foot traffic, kept temps and contractors from their jobs, and really peeved the many confused tourists. Meanwhile, a small contingent of protesters stood along the West side of Broadway and did outreach for Occupy and related causes. Small groups of protesters also fanned out to the US Bankruptcy Court, Ameritrade, and JP Morgan (where a small contingent got into the building).
Some of the stories coming out are quite harrowing. I was able to follow the streaming feed from the Saturday night protest, and for the better part of the weekend the NYPD was aggressively using a tactic first unveiled in May called ‘Snatch and Grab‘. The basics are simple–police sweep into a group of demonstrators, grab a protester or three and throw them around. They arrest and handcuff the individuals and truck them off to jail (probably to answer a Disorderly Conduct charge). This is a meaningful change from earlier protests, when police announced that they would begin arrests at a certain point if protesters did not back off. Interesting information on the tactic here. The weekend of S17 was also marked by numerous arrests of journalists, even credentialed photojournalists. One police officer told protesters he was arresting “whatever I do is legal“. One of the victims of these tactics was NY City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who was reportedly struck by a police riot baton.
This is hardly new. Last year (September 26 to be exact), Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out much the same issues, including the infamous video of Inspector Anthony Bologna pepper-spraying a group of detained protesters and predicted that no police officers would face charges for clearly identified brutality. We’re about 11 months out from the near-martyrdom of Scott Olsen and the iconic pepper-spraying of arrestees at University of California Davis. UC Davis has finally had to offer settlement money to the students sprayed in the infamous incident, and officer John Pike was fired–but he will face no criminal charges (news released just this week). The NYPD docked Bologna for 10 vacation days, but didn’t charge him with a crime and didn’t fire him. He’s facing a civil suit over the event, and the city has announced it won’t defend him, but he will get support through his union. And again–no criminal charges, which will make it harder for the plaintiffs to get a judgment.
All of which brings me, in a roundabout way, to Alabama’s own Bull Connor, a name from the past that many of my generation will remember. Connor gained his notoriety in 1963 during the Civil Rights era, when he had his policemen train firehoses on peaceful demonstrators trying to register to vote. After the hoses were turned off, the attack dogs were released. The scenes (broadcast on most national television networks) were so graphic that they had a major effect on public opinion–JFK was reportedly so outraged by what he saw that he set to work on what would be the Civil Rights Act.
We’re not going to get a Bull Connor moment reaction from President Obama when it comes to Occupy–it’s his Department of Homeland Security that has been coordinating national response to the protests. And we’re not getting a Rodney King moment out of the all the captured video, either–the police are doing everything they can to interfere with people capturing video of their worst excesses. But even those videos that crack the media bubble aren’t waking anyone in the great 99% to rush to the defense of the protesters.
Meanwhile, for nearly a year now, the US has ignored an entreaty from two human rights envoys from the United Nations that the nation do something to protect Occupy protesters. Beatings and pepper spray apparently don’t move people outside of the Occupy movement to action. Is Occupy’s Bull Connor moment going to involve someone dying?