Occupy Wall Street Sues New York City, JP Morgan #OWS

One of the continuing and largely unrecognized aspects of the ongoing media coverage of Occupy Wall Street is that police brutality and lesser abuses have been airbrushed out.

In the early days of the movement when the number participating was small, it was overly aggressive policing that put them on the map. YouTube clips of women who were already kettled being pepper sprayed and arrests of people on Brooklyn Bridge went viral. Later arrests from a march across Brooklyn Bridge garnered more sympathy when reconstruction of events showed that the protestors had actually been directly by police to walk on the roadway, setting them up to be incarcerated. The real eye opener was when Oakland police critically wounded Iraq war vet Scott Olsen while using tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades to clear Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, with no evidence of any provocation by the protestors.

The powers that be quickly realized their error. When Zuccotti Park was cleared on November 15 as part of a coordinated, national, quasi military crackdown, journalists were not only kept well away from the park, the few that managed to get inside the cordon were roughed up and arrested despite identifying themselves as members of the media. While there were some videos of police assaulting protestors during this period (see this example), major media fell into line, in many cases cheering the efficiency of the policing. In the case of the New York Times, this appears to have resulted from Times journalists having been embedded in the operation.

The heavy handed assaults and media control is meant to convey the message that defiance is useless. Yet this is turning into a protracted struggle over the legitimacy of authority. We’ve commented before on how these crackdowns consume a lot of tax dollars at a time when municipal budgets are already being cut. And they wind up being even more costly than most imagine, because the courts have generally been sympathetic to protestors who are injured in the course of unwarranted police roughings-up, particularly now that what really happened is caught more often than before on smart phone video cameras. The point is a little police overzealousness over time leads to not cheap settlements.

A less costly but nevertheless important front for pushing back is via suits against police violations of Constitutional rights. Bloomberg reports that two cases were filed today, one against four New York City council members, JP Morgan, Brookfield Properties, and Mayor Bloomberg over the use of excessive force by police and denial of constitutional rights. OWS also filed a separate suit against police chief Ray Kelly by five protestors seeking class action status over detention of protestors when they were “never charged with any violation, misdemeanor or crime.”

This may on the surface appear to be a quixotic salvo against overwhelming police/bureaucratic force. But this is actually part of a war of attrition. The real game here is to undermine the legitimacy of authority by putting a spotlight on their illegitimate actions. As Richard Kline wrote on an earlier post:

One has to erode the legitimacy of those in the wrong before public opinion shifts sufficiently for their efficacy to sag. This isn’t a linear process, which is why polling is really, really stupid about things most of the time. Supposing some of your friends went down and cop just haulded off and slammed them in the kisser with a baton. Do you think they’d sue? Of course. They wouldn’t see the cop as just doing his job: they only see that when he’s doing his job on somebody else. So in fact, they’re _not_ indifferent to injustice but insulated from it.

Part of a social change movement is pulling out handfuls of insulation—or more often about the police burning it. I know that this isn’t a very satisfying rebutal to your concerns, which are real, but the fact is that you do influence people wearing that symbol simply by being a reasonable person endorsing something which isn’t the same tired bullshit. You can’t know the incremental effect you have until the shift comes. And yes, it may take years. In Egypt, they’d been organizing (in far more difficult conditions) for five years before The Big Unwind. The point is for the Occupation Movement to maintain intitiative and keep the pressure on. The authorities only have a limited playbook, and no solutions whatsoever.

It remains to be seen whether the Occupy movement has the staying power to effect or foment lasting change. But with unemployment high (reducing the stakes to participation in protests) and the elites far more keenly interested in the needs of the 1% than those of ordinary citizens, there is plenty of dry timber for a spark to set off a bigger conflagration.

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  1. Susan the other

    I worry that OWS faces brutal opposition. If we citizens refuse to swallow political and financial brutality we will be treated with unrestrained physical brutality. And because they cannot stop zeitgeist, the “establishment” will become ever more brutal.

    1. chitown2020

      Why don’t we draw up petitions to have the tyrants removed and march those petitions right to the State Capitals?

      1. R Foreman

        Ignoring (or worse, brutalizing) peaceful protest only makes the protest stronger, and makes the establishment collapse inevitable.

    2. Lambert Strether

      They will, it’s what they do and they enjoy it. Still, it didn’t work in Serbia, didn’t work in Cairo, didn’t work in Birmingham, AL. If they had legitimacy, they wouldn’t have to use cruder tools.

  2. eyesoars

    “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

    1. JustAnObserver

      This was, IIRC, said by John F. Kennedy … while he was president … although one might be forgiven in imagining it being said by e.g. Gramschi.

  3. Eagle

    Far and away the best part of the OWS movement has been the way it’s illuminated police departments as the gangs of violent thugs they are. Ironically, I really don’t sympathize or agree with any of OWS’ redistributionist economic policy; but watching the bad publicity the NYPD has been getting has been more than worth it.

    1. Buzzard

      “OWS redistributionist economic policy” Where was that press release? OWS appears to be asking the “restributionists” to give back what they stole.

    2. JerryDenim

      Supporting the rule of law and opposing a highly regressive taxation system is hardly “redistributionist”. Pure 1% propaganda. However supporting our present system of incredibly regressive taxation does qualify as ‘redistributionist’ because it has proven effective at redistributing wealth from the 99% to the 1%. Nice to hear you dislike police brutality but don’t try to reverse the truth with your propaganda buzzwords.

  4. chitown2020

    2 thumbs up! There are other ways to fry this fish. The people who were entrapped and ensnared on the bridge should sue the City as well.

  5. Jill

    Just got back from the uniform store in town. It is full of tactical fill-in-the-blank. Since last year, when the store did have lots of tactical bric a brac but some civilian stuff, now it’s mostly police riot type gear. It made me sad. This is such a poor city but you can clearly see where the money is going. We don’t need a tactical force in this city. We need jobs.

    Jonathan Turley has a post today on an ACLU observer who was pulled off the sidewalk and arrested at OWS NY. I’m guessing they: 1. knew she would be there and 2. used the facial recognition software. Then they just went after her.

    This is not the society I want for myself or other people. Just from a practical perspective the govt. is taking a lot of money for the repression of dissent. This is a beautiful country. We have natural resources, we have smart people, we have amazing technology. We could have a good life. We could be a truly prosperous nation.

    OWS shows what life could be. That knowledge is dangerous to totalitarians. They must keep people’s mind in dark boxes so that people will accept this is how things must be. I do not accept and I do not consent.

    1. EH

      There’s no such thing as good facial-recognition software.

      Anybody who says there is, is selling facial-recognition software.

  6. Pitchfork

    The biggest hurdle right now for OWS is to overcome the perception that they are just some left-wing/liberal/commie/socialist morons who hate capitalism/America/apple pie.

    Even some hard-core libertarian types — who should know better — unreflectingly place OWS into the box marked “LEFT/Socialist” and therefore oppose them without so much as a second look.

    And from my conversations with otherwise “normal” people who don’t follow politics on the internets, that’s generally their perception of OWS, too — regardless of whether they generally like the idea of OWS or not.

    1. jsmith

      So, instead of educating people as to the beneficial aspects of many socialist/anarchist policies and ideas people on the left should just accept the frame that the MSM and the elite have crafted for that end of the political spectrum – i.e., the left is un-American, etc?

      You do understand how defeatist and weak that line of reasoning is?

      Because the propaganda is seemingly too powerful people should just start thinking like the propaganda says they should, dress like how the propaganda says they should, speak like how the propaganda says they should and act like how the propaganda says they should?

      America: home of the coward – intellectual and otherwise.

    2. K Ackermann

      There’s nothing wrong with left association. All the big positive changes associate left. Civil Rights, Emancipation, etc, etc.

      The Left always bears the brunt. Whenever freedom is expressed people get clubbed, tortured, and assassinated. What did JFK, RFK, and MLK have in common? All had freedom and equality as the bedrock of their beliefs.

      How many civil rights workers had their heads stoved in?

      Being called a Leftie just means you are ahead of the curve, and the libertarians can kiss my ass. Self-absorbed, and self-centered is not liberty – it’s sociopathy.

      1. Pitchfork

        “There’s nothing wrong with left association. All the big positive changes associate left. Civil Rights, Emancipation, etc, etc.”

        You’re also projecting. But it’s a fact that people see OWS as a Lefty movement. It then gets filtered through the Left/Right lens favored by the oligarchy and thereby neutralized. That’s a serious problem.

        But to your point, the Civil Rights movement achieved its objectives without simultaneously making ordinary people sympathetic to “The Left” in general. It succeeded by being neither Left nor Right and by gaining wide support. It succeeded by convincing people of the justice of its goals.

        OWS is about defeating the financial oligarchs and loosening their grip on the levers of government. Whether its success or failure also entails validating the Left politics of individual OWS supporters is neither here nor there.

        BTW, declaring that potential allies can “kiss my ass” makes you part of the problem I’m describing. In any case, many libertarians and libertarian-leaning folks already ARE a part of OWS or are OWS supporters. Tough.

        1. weinerdog43

          It’s just that kind of sanctimonious and snotty response one would expect from a libertarian. You don’t have to like the messengers, and if they piss you off, tough.

        2. Christophe

          You responded to two valid objections to your equally valid post as mere projection. Have you but one defense you trot out regardless of the criticism? Your critics did not latch onto the worthwhile insight in your post, instead dissecting its slightly offensive tone. But it is not their job to applaud when you restate an idea they have already heard often enough.

          From the tone of all your posts, you appear to be overly enamored with yourself and your thoughts (some might call them beliefs.) By gratuitously crying foul over projection, you have merely inspired suspicion that that is your own shortcoming. This defensive abuse also makes me wonder whether you are simply lazy or whether jsmith is correct in attributing it to cowardice.

    3. K Ackermann

      And another thing…

      1% and 99% and now burned in our lexicon. Every stratum, sect, and camp now use these terms, and they all know where it came from.

      Go ahead – start naming the Tea Party memes that have burned into everyone’s psyche.

      1. Pitchfork

        Just to hammer home the point… Some Tea Party people are sympathetic to OWS and a few have already taken part in OWS actions. More potential allies, whether you like it or not.

        1. K Ackermann

          Well they overcame the left “problem” then. Are they better informed, or smarter in general?

    4. EH

      You know, what would be a great help is if random people didn’t contribute to perpetuating myths that demonize the left.

      1. Pitchfork

        In the context of this thread, I assume you’re addressing my comments. To be clear — I was simply describing the perception of OWS as being “lefty/socialist” etc. That, my friend, is indeed a problem if we hope to accomplish anything on the financial oligarchy front. We can convince people of the particular injustice of the bailouts etc. and achieve tangible reforms (a tall order!) before those same people will convinced that “lefty/socialist” politics (or anrachist or whatever) are American as apple pie.

        1. weinerdog43

          On the contrary, you and your righty friends are going to have to suck it up and get used to ‘leftys’ being involved. We don’t have the Koch Bros. handing out billions to get our message out. In other words, get used to affiliating with the DFHs.

          1. Pitchfork

            “On the contrary”? Do you even understand how this phrase is used?

            I’ll also repeat what I said to another commenter. You’re projecting, and the left-right squabble you’re perpetuating here makes you part of the problem. You’re also confusing description with advocacy.

            Do you want to help or do you want to get all frothed up about imaginary right-wingers?

          2. Christophe

            Someone is indeed part of the problem here, but it is not weinerdog43 nor his appropriate use of “on the contrary.” You might want to reread his post, though that may not help to understand his usage. Nor will a dictionary likely help. The difficulty seems to arise from your reading of your own position — a reading which no one who has responded shares with you.

            Objectivity is a hard won aptitude that cannot be practiced simultaneously with projection. If you try rereading the whole thread to identify who introduced the “left-right squabble” in the first place, you might be surprised.

            Also, try to do something other than “repeat what I said to another commenter” from now on. It will strengthen your rhetorical skills. See my response above if you do not understand why.

    5. patricia

      Pitchfork, I agree that it’s a big problem. It’s the perception of almost everyone I talk to. Doesn’t matter that it’s illegitimate and baseless, it is pervasive. Lots of reasons for it, not the least of which is that then people can put it in a box and ignore it.

      An older intelligent hardworking liberal told me this morning that Occupy was just the 60’s all over again and that plain failed in a haze of lovey-dovey pot, sex, and laze. “I was there,” she said. “I know.”

      “Think globally, act locally,” she said firmly, and by that she meant work in her neighborhood and leave all that “big systemic stuff” alone. She had no interest in paying any attention to May Day doings.

      It’s a problem, like it or not.

      1. Pitchfork

        That’s interesting. I’m related, by marriage, to one of the Weather Underground, and s/he has been active in OWS in the local area and hasn’t given up on the “systemic stuff.”

        Ultimately, I’m optimistic. I think we’ll win. Unfortunately it will take a lot longer than I had initially thought when this shit storm came to a head 3-4 years ago.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Very actively and aggressively trying to infiltrate and co-opt. I got an earful from David Graeber last night how Van Jones and MoveOn types are all over OWS. They show up, don’t disclose that they have full time day jobs for these and other fauxgressive groups, and try to get installed in key positions, most often in charge of media relations.

      There is apparently a move afoot to turf them out, but it takes time.

      1. patricia

        What a frickin’ waste of time/energy for everyone! As if there isn’t real work everywhere shouting to be done!

        Van Jones et al are sick puppies.

        1. Skippy

          You should have seen the action over here, Ron Paul Randian libertarians vs. everyone else. Guess where the rabid vitriol came from?

          You seem very knowledgeable and active on the Australian social media affiliated with movements such as Occupy, I feel that your opinion would be one that could lead to an overall critical and objective understanding of a situation which has been brought to our attention. This is why you have been contacted.

          I have a few questions I would like to ask of you.

          Anonymous plays a role in overseeing liberation movements, guiding them, helping them bloom to their full potential. We are only mere worker bees, doing a small part to continue the survival of the colony.

          Part of this is to help monitor social media movements, guide people in the right direction, help them find answers to question they may not understand.

          Our contact with you is nothing to be alarmed about. We were just wondering if you could provide some clarification.

          As you are aware, solidarity throughout the movement is created through unity. Whilst we are all wonderful diverse human beings, a common cause has been set for these movements. As individuals we are weak and can be struck down one by one. But as one consisting of many, we are powerful. One is struck down and ten more appear in their place.

          So, you see, resolution and unity is something we must strive for.

          From our reconnaissance we have found interesting situation.
          There are, at present, two social media pages associated with ‘Occupy Brisbane’.

          “/OccupyBrisbane” : 1,255 likes
          “/TheOccupyBrisbane” : 6,330 likes

          From review of the posts, we are concluding that the two pages both have somewhat of a conflict with one another.

          Could you provide some background information into what has occurred previously with the social media pages/movements in regards to this?

          Are you aware of any resolution at present or sought for?

          Your answers will help understand more objectively and critically so that we can analysis and get to the truth of the matter.

          Peace & Love

          Skippy… The wash will take time and our currant diminishing economic out look may entice more participation. Probably after a bout of political voter confusion ie. running from one side of the ship to the other, thinking it will come off the rocks. Then people might open their ears and minds.

  7. just me

    I’m reading along…

    …four New York City council members, JP Morgan, Brookfield Properties, and Mayor Bloomberg…

    …and I’m thinking, who’s the fourth, Goldman Sachs?

    (I know, I know.)

  8. K Ackermann

    Maybe the process can be sped up.

    The playbook for the oppressors calls for forced nudity. From Abu Graib, to Gitmo, Bradley Manning, and the recent SCOTUS descision.

    So a nude OWS protest most likely would prevent police brutality because every cop would be well aware that images of them clubbing nude people would instantly evoke images of Nazi concentration camps.

    It also sends messages at many levels, but the superficial spectacle itself probably would attract massive press er… exposure.

    1. Christophe

      That would certainly lay bare our culture’s Puritanical prudery. Given the raw media footage it would likely garner, the planning process would have to be kept concealed from the authorities. How to keep it from being uncovered until the appointed hour? If anyone exposed the plan to the police, it would be stripped of its effectiveness. Not to mention the protesters nakedly divested of their rights.

  9. chitown2020

    I love what Bloomberg reported today about what Ron Paul had to say RE the FEDsters. Mr. Krugman had some pretty choice words for them too. I’m loving it…!

  10. scraping_by

    The lawsuit is good that it breaks it out of the protesters vs cops story. While they’ve culled the uniformed forces for morons who are okay with unprovoked violence, either because they’re psychos or too gutless to act human, they’re still the instrument. The real enemy is the wielders.

    It would be a nice fantasy to see the bosses put their pudgy little butts on the line. If they want a police state, let them do a little policing. Not even in The Onion.

    There’s little chance the 1% will run out of lackeys, either head busters or elected officials. Until it’s no longer worth it. The pride went away when they took the job, it’ll have to wait until the cost is too high.

    1. CaitlinO

      The elite never do the enforcing; they never have to. As the great humanitarian robber-baron Jay Gould pointed out after hiring strikebreakers:

      “I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.”

      We simply can’t afford to ever again let a small group of people amass so much of the nation’s wealth that they can pursue solutions like Gould’s.

      1. chitown2020

        They were allowed to steal and privatize our wealth by the traitor politicians. The movie Money Never Sleeps describes what they did. It was the biggest transfer of our wealth in history. They were allowed to privatize our wealth and socialize their debt onto the people. The repeal of Glass-Steagall was the set up, the removal of the Uptick Rule in 2007 by the SEC allowed our robbery and the fraudulent inducement of the Patriot Act under the guise of a War on Terror allowed the privatization of our wealth by the banksters into overseas banks. The bailouts of the TBTF by CONgress allowed them to socialize their debt onto the American people. So did the privatization of the GSE,s …that gave the GSE ‘s a direct pipeline to the U.S. TREASURY and the Peoples money. Like isnt that how this all happened in the first place..? Anyone see the failed bank list lately..? I looked into some of them and found out some of them are hiding out in other banks. Like Amcore Bank is hiding inside of Marshall and Illsley Bank, a Canadian Bank, in an unsecured, not FDIC insured trust called North Star Trust. The website assures investors their investments are safe. CROOKS..!

  11. Goldman

    Also interesting is why one of the OWS leaders – of a supposedly leaderless protest is an Israeli professional activist / rabble rouser – who works for Center for World Religions – http://crdc.gmu.edu/staff/kobi-skolnick/.

    The best part Kobi ‘s Boss is Marc Gopin – who just happens to be a close friend/associate of Michael Moore – see – http://scar.gmu.edu/event/3084


    1. patricia

      Ooo, Goldman, you’ve sach’ed OWS good and proper. Best and brightest take-down evah. Thanks so much for doing God’s work. /s

  12. chitown2020

    Are these idiots brainwashed about these worthless mbs’s? On Bloomberg news you have one guy saying the paper is worthless and another guy saying these debt instruments are still valuable and there is no way the “Originator” should lose on them…..NEWS FLASH FOR MORTGAGE BROKER DUMBIES….its the Origination Fraud stupid..YOU CANT TURN WATER INTO WINE….the ORIGINATORS don’t have the notes because the never sold the loans and securitized them..they held on to the mortgages and oversold interests in our notes hundred of times per note. Not only is that fraud and renders the mortgages and notes a nullity but the debt instruments are now insolvent and can never be repaid.

    1. chitown2020

      Oops I forgot…they usary all of us as debt instruments until we’re dead..!

  13. Jack Parsons

    The riot gear and black leather is massively homoerotic. If you want to make good theater, wear pink cardboard armor.

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