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Why Are Police Attacking Peaceful Protesters? How OWS Has Exposed the Militarization of US Law Enforcement

Crossposted From AlterNet:

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 U.S. 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 them:

“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 Iraq or Afghanistan. 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.”

Police repression in America is 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 U.S. police state in action. 

As Occupation Spreads, So Does the Police State

A clear pattern has emerged in the response to occupations throughout the country, from San Francisco to Denver, involving midnight raids by heavily armed paramilitary units of riot police deployed to enforce park curfews.

Protesters at Occupy San Francisco are familiar with the routine. They have endured multiple late-night police raids on their encampment in Justin Herman Plaza, 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.

Some 200 protesters resisted peacefully, locking arms to prevent the police invasion, which was met with a frighteningly violent response. According to the San 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 occupation of Lincoln Park 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.

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 Cesar Chavez Park were arrested late Wednesday night for failing to leave the park after closing, bringing the total of Occupy Sacramento arrests to 67.

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 new city ban on the use of umbrellas as makeshift structures regardless of the weather.

Peaceful Arrests In Chicago

With the blessing of Chicago’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.

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 Princeton University professor and 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.

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 New York City, where a perimeter of metal barricades surrounds and even follows protesters from 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.

  1. Jim Miller #

    Sorry for the duplicate. Where is the edit button? If none, will the moderator please delete the duplicate below the first post? Thanks
    Jim Miller

    October 22, 2011
    • Pelosi calls these protesters coorugeaus and spontaneous and encourages them to continue. She condemns the T.E.A. Party when we hold a well organized and civil demonstration for the purpose of trying to say our country, not destroy it. I feel this is a ploy to take the spot light off Obama and the Democrats as they are doing such a pitiful job of running this country. It is our fault though as we sit around for years and let them take one freedom after another away from us. I also heard of the One World Organization 50 plus years ago. We are in for a real fight so we better be ready.

      May 21, 2012
  2. Jim Miller #


    Your only hope is to recuse yourselves from control of the national political and economic system. You will need to plead for foregivness from the masses of folks upon whom you have imposed hurt, damage, degration, and dismissal of their hopes. Your burden is heavy. You and your predecessors over the past one to three or so hundred years have financed and enviggled governments to fight hideous wars. You have installed dictators and supported them, knowing of their will to murder their fellow humans and impost great deprivation upon them. Worse, you have used the media to divert the folks’ attention from their woes created and imposed by you – a gigantic wasteland of radio, television, movies and national diversions. You have intentionally “dumbed down” the average citizens by refusing to support high quality education among all residents of the nation. You threaten further deprivations of shelter, food, jobs, education and health care.

    You have contributed your wealth to your personal pleasures while homeless folks suffer wretched conditions of existence. You have excellent food, shelter and medical care while great numbers of us sleep in poor and inadquate shelters – or no shelter at all – and suffer from our disabilities. You have used your exteme wealth to buy our elected represenatives while at the same time hoovering great wealth from the masses. You have annointed the winners in the political and economic games you play, and dismissed those chosen by you to lose, with impunity. You throw good, competent and loyal workers from local jobs and move your factories to slave labor nations ruled by your former “communist” enemies. Your hippocracy is evermore transparent.

    You pretend to be terribly concerned about the Federal debt, yet your coporate enterprises have been the chief beneficeries of the transfer of wealth thereby exploding the public debt. Your banks first throw fake money at the DOTCOM sectors and the real estate sectors, driving huge economic bubbles. Then you unload the risks on late entrants who try to “score” the same as you have done. They get caught as the Money Masters pull the triggers for the ensuring depressions. The banksters then gobble up equities of vast numbers of Americans who were led by you to believe in the American Dream. You turned those dreams into nightmares.

    You have much to answer for. It is better that you admit the failures of your attempts to rule the nation by the creation and operation of the Corporate State of America. Your actions will be carefully monitored by us, the 99%. If your actions are found wanting, you will surely pay a greater price. We will change how our nation is governed. We will change how our life’s hopes are spun. We will change how to claim the value and benefits of our labors, to the exclusion of your corporate enterprises. Your perks and privileges, extracted by bribery of the cowards you have caused to be elected to public office, will dissolve into nothing. Act now! Delay and resistance will most certainly embolden the 99%.

    The Ninety-Nine Percent

    October 22, 2011
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    March 22, 2013

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