The Police State and Occupy Wall Street
(Photo by Adam Lempel)
We Don’t Live In a Free Society:
I wrote an article over a month ago exposing the Obama administration’s crackdown on civil liberties. The piece begins with the assertion that “the United States is still the freest country in the world.” I was curious to see how readers would react. A number of people commented that such a statement is so delusional that they had to stop reading. At the time I thought they were perhaps overreacting. But after witnessing the state’s crackdown on Occupy Wall Street it has become clear that they were right. We do not live in a free society.
Perhaps the most basic right in a democracy is, to quote the Constitution, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” If we cannot do this we don’t live in a real democracy. I’ve been aware that our democracy is a sham for some time. Prior to Occupy Wall Street I understood that our government has been completely hijacked by corporate interests, rendering the political process pure theatre. I had also been familiar with the fact that the state has cracked down on demonstrators on many occasions.
But my experience at Occupy Wall Street has served as a serious reality check about just how free our society is. The disproportionate police presence surrounding the rebellion exists for one reason— to intimidate us. Since day one, the state has sent an enormous supply of cops to monitor us, threaten us, arrest us, and beat us up. Well over 800 people have been arrested. And for what? For exercising their most basic right. Meanwhile, the criminals on Wall Street who have trashed the global economy, stolen trillions from the taxpayers in bailouts and continue to engage in the same speculative practices that got us into this mess have faced no retribution. The CEOs at Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and AIG have not been arrested. They continue to reap millions in bonuses and deferred stock options. And they use the state to send the cops out to crush resistance. JP Morgan Chase recently donated an unprecedented $4.6 million to the NYPD. Clearly, they approve of the brutality.
As someone who grew up in New York, I have been to Wall Street many times. In my experience there has never been a police presence even remotely comparable to what we’ve seen at Occupy Wall Street, even on days when there were high terror alerts. At times, at least in the early days of the protest, it felt like there were more police officers than demonstrators. The message is clear—don’t come out, stay home, be afraid. But we are not afraid.
I haven’t been arrested so far, but I have had a surreal experience of my own. On Tuesday last week someone hacked into and shut down my Web Site, which had been receiving thousands of page hits a day. It was frightening and surprising, though in retrospect I should have anticipated it. As with the police brutality, I had previously been familiar with the government’s abuse of surveillance power in the aftermath of 9/11. The Patriot Act allows them to spy on us and do what they like with full impunity. And the surveillance state, much like the military apparatus, is dominated by private, mercenary corporate contractors. But it’s one thing to read about someone else’s brush up with the police state; it’s another to experience it yourself.
The measures taken by our government against Occupy Wall Street resemble what occurs in dictatorships and third world countries. The police refuse to let protestors sleeping overnight at Liberty Plaza set up tents to block the rain, which has been torrential at times. I have spoken to numerous people who say they have either gotten sick or will eventually catch a fever because of such conditions. They consider this treatment cruel and unusual punishment.
On Saturday, according to many eyewitnesses, the police set up the protestors on the Brooklyn Bridge for mass arrests. I arrived too late to join the demonstration. By the time I got there, the area was swarming with cops. I asked one officer where the protestors were. He said they were on the bridge and being arrested because they were “blocking traffic.” I knew he had made false charges and tried to get onto the bridge to see for myself. But the police had blocked off the area and forced everyone to leave.
Every witness I spoke to afterwards confirmed that the NYPD trapped the marchers. It was the police who had blocked traffic, not demonstrators. The protestors were initially marching on the pedestrian walkway, and a huge row of cops had shut down the bridge in the direction towards Brooklyn, luring demonstrators into a trap by creating the appearance that it was permissible to walk on the road. When the crowd moved onto the road, a new row of officers sealed them in from behind, rolling out thick orange tape, and they started arresting people indiscriminately without warning and provoking violence (see footage at end of article). In one of the largest mass arrests in American history, the NYPD incarcerated over 700 people, forced them to sit in massive buses, about ten vehicles in total, and sent them to prison. This is terrorism.
Everyone was terrified. One girl I spoke to said she nearly had a panic attack and had braced for an arrest, though she managed to escape. Another person I interviewed, a lawyer from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania named Allen, told me “people started preparing for pepper spray,” although mercifully the police didn’t resort to such measures because of the bad press from two Saturdays ago.
Allen says he came to Wall Street precisely because he had heard about the police brutality two Saturdays ago and wanted to resist such brazen violations of his rights, which he thinks “is a reason to be deeply concerned,” adding, “if you don’t exercise your rights you’ll lose them.” He explains that we are perhaps headed towards full-blown totalitarianism—“these things happen in increments. By the time it becomes pure totalitarianism, you won’t even realize it. They’ve been conditioning us to get used to losing our rights. They put up cameras all over this park, the CIA trains the NYPD, which is illegal—the CIA is required to engage only in foreign affairs, not domestic— they spy on our conversations and online activity.”
He declares that “the message of today’s march is to tell Americans to wake up. We have the power, if we stick together, to restore our rights.” He says he feels a stronger sense of resolve now than before he participated in the march on the Brooklyn Bridge, exclaiming, “you don’t become less determined because the cops are out to get you,” and, “when the police spend that much time and resources to shut down the Brooklyn Bridge, you realize they’re scared.” Everyone I have spoken to at Occupy Wall Street shares this attitude.
The crackdown on Occupy Wall Street is part of a much broader trend. The police state has been spying on American dissidents without any evidence of wrongdoing and brutally breaking up protests it does not like. The state cut off cell phone service in one recent case. At the G20 Summit protest in Pittsburgh last year, the government militarized the area, bringing in contractors from Fallujah and setting up check points. America has militarized its police force, sending SWAT teams to conduct raids on over 40,000 American homes a year (that’s right). And now, the government has done the unthinkable—murdered a U.S. citizen without evidence of criminal conduct or any semblance of due process.
Shortly before he died, George Carlin did a bit on how we do not have and have never really had rights. I quote in full:
“Now, if you think you do have rights, I have one last assignment for ya. Next time you’re at the computer get on the Internet, go to Wikipedia. When you get to Wikipedia, in the search field for Wikipedia, I want you to type in, ‘Japanese-Americans 1942,’ and you’ll find out all about your precious fucking rights…
In 1942 there were 110,000 Japanese-American citizens, in good standing, law abiding people, who were thrown into internment camps simply because their parents were born in the wrong country. That’s all they did wrong. They had no right to a lawyer, no right to a fair trial, no right to a jury of their peers, no right to due process of any kind. The only right they had was… right this way! Into the internment camps.
Just when these American citizens needed their rights the most, their government took them away. And rights aren’t rights if someone can take ‘em away. They’re privileges. That’s all we’ve ever had in this country is a bill of TEMPORARY privileges; and if you read the news, even badly, you know that every year the list gets shorter, and shorter, and shorter. Yah, sooner or later the people in this country are going to realize the government doesn’t give a fuck about them. The government doesn’t care about you, or your children, or your rights, or your welfare or your safety. It simply doesn’t give a fuck about you. It’s interested in its own power. That’s the only thing; keeping it, and expanding wherever possible.”
The only antidote to this nefarious trend is to join the rebellion. Come out to Wall Street, help us through our Web Site if you can’t, start your own resistance in your local community, occupy a bank, talk to people, get the word out. We can change things for the better. We can take the power back and transform our corppratocracy into a real democracy.
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Live footage of mass arrests at Brooklyn Bridge (courtesy of wearechange.org)
Tagged with: civil liberties • Contractors • crackdown • George Carlin • militarization • NYPD • Occupy Wall Street • police brutality • police state • Privatization • Rights vs privileges • Surveillance state • SWAT teams
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