The crackdowns on the Occupations around the US are as ugly as they seem.
The area around Zuccotti Park was subject last night to a 9/11 level lockdown over peaceful, lawful protests by a small number of people. No credible case has been made by the officialdom that the protestors had violated any laws. Martial law level restrictions were in place. Subways were shut down.Local residents were not allowed to leave their buildings. People were allowed into the area only if they showed ID with an address in the ‘hood. Media access was limited to those with official press credentials, which is almost certainly a small minority of those who wanted to cover the crackdown (the Times’ Media Decoder blog says that journalists are describing the tactics, as we did, as a media blackout). Moreover, reading the various news stories, it appears they were kept well away from the actual confrontation (for instance, the reported tear gassing of the Occupiers in what had been the kitchen, as well as separate accounts of the use of pepper spray and batons). News helicopters were forced to land. As of 10 AM, reader Wentworth reported that police helicopters were out in force buzzing lower Manhattan.
Gregg Levine tells us, based on a BBC interview of Mayor Quan of Oakland, that as some readers and this blogger speculated last night, the 18 police action was a national, coordinated effort. This is a more serious development that one might imagine. Reader Richard Kline has pointed out that one of the de facto protections of American freedoms is that policing is local, accountable to elected officials at a level of government where voters matter.
National coordination vitiates the notion that policing is responsive to and accountable to the governed. Even though the blog the Stranger gives a tidbit from the Seattle mayor, who did not participate in the crackdown, that the effort was coordinated through the US Conference of Mayors, it is not hard to imagine that there was more that a little bit of, erm, help from the Feds. Gregg points out that New York city police chief Ray Kelly has a tight relationship with the CIA and the FBI. Homeland Security has also trying to increase its influence over police forces in major cities. It is not hard to imagine it playing a role in this effort as well. And this of course makes a farce of the sympathetic noises from Teleprompter (hat tip reader Bob Falfa for the coinage)
Crains New York reports that Bloomberg is defying a court order to allow protestors back into Zuccotti Park:
Hundreds of officers in riot gear raided Zuccotti Park at 1 a.m. Tuesday, removing dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters from the park that protesters had renamed Liberty Square. After the park was cleaned, the mayor said people could return but without tents, tarps or sleeping bags.
Hours later, the National Lawyers Guild obtained a court order allowing Occupy Wall Street protesters to return with tents to the park. The guild said the injunction prevents the city from enforcing park rules on Occupy Wall Street protesters, but the city kept the park sealed off throughout the afternoon, despite the order.
At a morning news conference at City Hall, Mr. Bloomberg said the city knew about the court order but had not seen it and would fight it in court. He said the city wants to protect people’s rights, but if it must choose, it will protect public safety.
Ah yes, the old “public safety” argument, the pet excuse of fascists. So what exactly is the worst OWS has done? Drumming at night? Annoying as hell, but a threat to safety? It appears the thing at risk is the 1%’s secure lock on political processes.
Abigail Field describes how the Occupations can turn around this reversal of fortune: have sympathizers put up protestors so they don’t have to live in the public places they decide to hold:
The only way to regain the power of the protest, to eliminate any shred of pretense for police state action, is to sever occupying and camping.
So how do we do that? By enabling the Occupiers to camp with you, and occupy the square in shifts. If sleeping and all the biological needs of the occupiers–can be handled in your space, the Occupiers can stand vigil in our space. Can’t you see it? The afternoon shift giving way to the graveyard shift, sunrise greeting the morning shift as it arrives for its duty. Or maybe there’s just two shifts, day and night. Either way, shift work is very 99%, a tactic that’s on message.
Look, the People are with the Occupiers; the Occupiers are having an impact; we need the Occupation to continue; we need to respond to the police state with jujitsu, with refining the situation so their assaults increasingly miss their mark. If we successfully separate occupation and camping, ALL action against the occupiers will be totally unjustifiable. The police state side loses.
But that can only happen if individual New Yorkers are courageous enough to stand up and invite a stranger into their home; if unions are courageous enough to really provide a platform for the Occupy movement’s fight; if the clergy in their synagogues, churches, mosques and temples spread their teachings by living the example and provide sanctuary.
The support of churches and synagogues is critical. Any readers that are active in their local house of worship in a city that was participated in the crackdowns should press their congregations on this issue. Another route is for some of the weekend protestors to see if they can handle an occasional evening shift (say after work to 10 or 11 PM) to increase the numbers holding the spaces.
Some religious leaders are already starting to rally behind the Occupiers. Again from Crains:
At the same time, a separate group of protesters descended on Juan Pablo Duarte Square, located between Canal and Grand streets and Varick and Sixth avenues in lower Manhattan. They were met there by a delegation of about one dozen interfaith leaders, who lead a prayer session.
“What happened last night is a gift—it’s a moment of transition,” said Rev. Michael Ellick, minister of Judson Memorial Church. “It’s not just about Zuccotti Park…It’s about how we function as a society.”
Many believe the crackdown was in advance of a planned two month rally planned for this Thursday to target Wall Street proper. The police action was clearly designed to keep press far enough away to prevent the capture of images and videos of police aggression that have only increased sympathy for and participation in the movement. I hope this ploy backfires, and that the turnout for the Thursday rally is large, and that OWS and its sympathizers develop improved strategies for recording the actions of the police.
Update: As soon as the post went up, this Wall Street Journal report on a ruling against OWS came in. Notice that the ruling is from the New York Supreme Court, which is confusingly the lowest level of court in the state. I assume the ruling will be appealed:
A judge ruled against Occupy Wall Street protesters, upholding a move by New York City and the landlord of the privately owned plaza to clear tents from Zuccotti Park and prevent protesters from bringing equipment back in…
Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman weighed whether to extend a temporary restraining order that bars the city from enforcing park rules against tents and other camping equipment.
The order is here, hat tip Michael Redman:
This is the meat of the ruling:
To the extentthat City law prohibits the erection of structures, the use of gas or other combustible materials, and the accumulation of garbage and human waste in public places, enforcement ofthe law and the owner’s rules appears reasonable to permitthe owner to maintain its space in a hygienic, safe, and lawful condition, and to prevent itfrom being liable by the City or others for violations of law, or in tort It also permits public access by those who live and work in the area who are the intended beneficiaries of this zoning bonus.
The movants have not demonstrated that they have a First Amendment right to remain in Zuccotti Park, along with their tents, structures, generators, and other installations to the exclusion oft he owner’s reasonable rights and duties to maintain Zuccotti Park, orto the rights to public access of others who might wish to use the space safely. Neither have the applicants shown a rightto a temporary restraining order that would restrict the City’s enforcement of law so as to promote public health and safety.
Note that the City was clearly prepared to make an argument in court; the protestors were represented (effectively) by the transit union, the New York Communities Exchange, the Working Families party. I suspect they did not have precedents as well lined up as the city did. The support of the transit union is important, particularly given the role the shutdown of the trains played in keeping observers and supporters away from the site last night. This struggle is not over and future rounds could get interesting.
Update 5:55 PM. Reader Debra C correct me on one point: there is as lower court level than the Supreme Court, but quite honestly, every litigation I’ve ever heard of in New York City (save small claims court) has started in the Supreme Court. It also looks like major judge shopping took place (no surprise here):
Civil court is the actually a lower level. Judge Stallman is actually only a Civil Court Judge who is temporarily assigned to the Supreme Court.
He never made it to Supreme Court in the normal way which is by election. He was originally appointed in 1999 to Civil Court by Mayor Giuliani. It shows.