This week’s story is the utter appalling hypocrisy exposed in how the police responded to two protests on November 9. The first took place at Cal Berkeley, where a thousand students protested the steep hikes in student tuition and the ongoing administrative tilt toward privatization. They attempted to establish an occupation on the campus with tents. The police viciously lunged with their batons at students who had linked arms. There were 39 arrests that day and no one knows how many of these young people are still walking around with welts on their body from that barbaric attack. As a post script, we now know that linking arms is a form of violence that justified the police response.
That same evening at Penn State hundreds of Joe Paterno’s loyal supporters turned out in the streets. Their revered coach had been fired that day for his alleged cover up of the alleged serial rapes of children by an assistant coach. The scene turned to one of mayhem when some of the supporters “overturned a media truck, hit an ESPN reporter in the head with a rock and made every effort at arson…” There were no arrests. You read that right. The police used pepper spray and mace, but there were no verified arrests that night.
The list of arrests and or evictions at Occupy encampments including Denver, St. Louis, Portland, Salt Lake City, Youngstown, Albany, Berkeley and San Diego are a stark contrast to both the nature of the riot at Penn State and the police response there. Are we going to shrug off the Penn state incident as boys being boys in their allegiance to our national sport/religion while at the same time viewing Occupy Wall Street as some kind of vague but scary domestic terrorist threat that needs to be nipped in the bud with police batons and rubber bullets and canisters of tear gas? Have we lost our collective minds and sense of moral decency and justice?
Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi recently posted “Politics: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests.” The entire article is worth reading and his thoughts on the police response to the Occupy movement are timely.
And here’s one more thing I was wrong about: I originally was very uncomfortable with the way the protesters were focusing on the NYPD as symbols of the system. After all, I thought, these are just working-class guys from the Bronx and Staten Island who have never seen the inside of a Wall Street investment firm, much less had anything to do with the corruption of our financial system.
But I was wrong. The police in their own way are symbols of the problem. All over the country, thousands of armed cops have been deployed to stand around and surveil and even assault the polite crowds of Occupy protesters. This deployment of law-enforcement resources already dwarfs the amount of money and manpower that the government “committed” to fighting crime and corruption during the financial crisis. One OWS protester steps in the wrong place, and she immediately has police roping her off like wayward cattle. But in the skyscrapers above the protests, anything goes.
This is a profound statement about who law enforcement works for in this country. What happened on Wall Street over the past decade was an unparalleled crime wave. Yet at most, maybe 1,500 federal agents were policing that beat – and that little group of financial cops barely made any cases at all. Yet when thousands of ordinary people hit the streets with the express purpose of obeying the law and demonstrating their patriotism through peaceful protest, the police response is immediate and massive. There have already been hundreds of arrests, which is hundreds more than we ever saw during the years when Wall Street bankers were stealing billions of dollars from retirees and mutual-fund holders and carpenters unions through the mass sales of fraudulent mortgage-backed securities.
The police surveillance and assaults of Occupy protesters must stop. They must stop now before we lose the last vestiges of our already shredded democracy.