The Meaning of Police Militarization Towards Occupy Wall Street

The historic significance of Occupy Wall Street jumps into living history not only because of its timely anti-corporate message but also in many ways because of a simple democratic dare inherent in its operation. Ironically, what really makes the meaning of this simple dare resonate is the way law enforcement, the representatives of “the state,” has responded to it. Occupy has dared to publicly assemble, speak freely and petition against a corporate domination (or “corporate occupation”) of their government.

These democratic protest actions are, at least by the teaching many Americans received in our history classes, protected by essential rights braided into the earliest documents of the country.  By simply not relenting in protest, Occupy has dared to call the democracy out on those idealized notions. Are ideas like free speech and habeas corpus for “We the People” just ideas or do they still carry on as mechanisms with practical traction? Besides protesting corporate control, the movement has brought to light the current state of those rights and protections we were taught we inherited as the most important operational mechanisms in the democracy.

The violent official reaction to Occupy’s simple rebellious act, democratically reclaiming the commons for public assembly in the name of economic and political justice, should serve as a tough but honest reminder as to where the public citizen stands relative to corporate power and “law enforcement.” Those simple rights of democracy are far less valuable to the very government that guarantees them as soon as you challenge corporate power.

The moment Occupy stepped over the line into demanding both political and economic justice, it would trigger an increasing amount of violence from local police departments. Exactly how seriously the Occupy challenge is being taken by those it challenges can be read in the dozens of brutal repressions against the movement.

We find troubling similarities between our pseudo- and para-military operations against foreign threats to our national interests (“terrorists”) and our current method of confronting Occupy, which with rare exception has engaged through legal public exercise of democracy. By comparing the state’s reaction to both, we find out exactly where anti-corporate protesters stand relative to the present American state. Perhaps we should have already known as soon as the first counter-terrorism units were spotted interspersed with local law enforcement at Occupy protests. By challenging corporate control of the state, Occupy has found far more repression than support from the government it seeks to liberate.

There’s the backhanded legal way, whether in New Orleans or Chicago, which can marginalize and then criminalize some of the very mechanisms of protest. After all, once protest action is illegal, those protesting are criminals. In an era where “threats to the status quo” are freely labeled “terrorist,” license is timidly rendered all the more freely to the state.

A state existentially threatened rarely waits for approvals of its authority. In an era too reminiscent of our counter-terrorism tactics, police are now regularly tracking and collecting data on Occupy protesters. They are arresting and even targeting journalists who cover the Occupy protests, nationwide. As early as November 2011, even former Chief of the Seattle Police Department Norm Stamper, commenting on police reaction to Occupy,  was troubled by scenes of what he called “a war zone.” Imagery of violence against anti-corporate protesters has almost become redundant in its unnerving consistency.

The militarization of oppression against Occupy marks just how true the basic hypothesis of the movement is. The government taxpayers themselves pay for, using weapons bought by the taxpayers, getting orders from power-brokers elected by the taxpayer, will beat, maim and detain those taxpayers when they seek to liberate one piece of their common property (the government) from the control of a tiny but powerful minority. That powerful minority, argues Occupy, is a moneyed and entitled elite.

Whatever you think of Occupy’s goals or strategy, it gets harder and harder to deny the violence against anti-corporate protesters. To triangulate a sense of why this matters so much, let’s imagine the movement in negative. Instead of an anti-corporate, pro-regulation, pro-peace, pro-transparency movement, let’s imagine it as a pro-corporate, anti-regulation, pro-war, anti-transparency movement.

Unlike Occupy, which seeks to liberate the government and further improve its functions, “OWS-in-negative” would in fact look to weaken the government’s functions, while increasing the likelihood the government be committed to destruction externally instead of investment internally. In a fit of passion, OWS-in-negative might even reveal itself as the direct enemy of government, wishing it was small enough to “drown it in a bathtub.” Wouldn’t OWS-in-negative, if government was truly concerned for its own well-being above all else, be perceived as a far more dangerous threat than Occupy?

You’ll be hard-pressed to find reports of Tea Party rallies getting tear gassed and beaten by an angry state, outraged at this direct and powerful pro-corporate challenge. Occupy on the other hand has seen every crease of the Iron Heel, despite the fact that it seeks to improve and renew the state. The terrible lesson illustrated by the state’s reaction to Occupy’s participatory democratic actions is that when forced to choose, the American government increasingly sides with corporate interests over even its own well-being.

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10 Replies to “The Meaning of Police Militarization Towards Occupy Wall Street”

  1. Hey Manny, first of all, welcome to PoliticusUSA:-) Second, you make an incredibly important point here re the opportunity to see that our rights have eroded. Bravo.

  2. Hey Sarah! Thanks so kindly for letting me join your wonderful team.

    There’s something profoundly important happening when the government we paid for, which is legally responsible to us, is willing to take perceived threats against the corporate elite a lot more seriously than threats against itself. Furthermore, when attempting to liberate your government draws a violent response from your government you have to wonder just how much of that government you truly control anymore.

    One Love, One Struggle,

  3. It should also be noted that why the state did not bother the tea party crowd it is the media who keeps pointing out the peaceful protests of the tea party against OWS.

    It appears that the police have turned into thugs almost everywhere and that is dangerous.

  4. Since 9/11, the police have been increasingly militarized, and state and local authorities have been arrogating to themselves federal powers: immigration “enforcement”, “citizenship” requirements”, and even determining “qualifications” to run for President of the United States. We have seen “nullification” and “sheriffs first” movements. Yet, at the same time, we have seen a legislative push to repeal the Posse Comitatus act and to override local ordinances on gun control. We’ve seen, in short, the proposition that no matter who, by law and tradition, has exercised authority, it must be shifted somewhere else. Where, and to whom?

    Our military is, in effect, mercenary. Most of the young men (and some young women) who enter it do so because their futures have been foreclosed by rising unemployment and exhorbitant tuition. The majority of them see it as a kind of finishing school to qualify them to work for private contracters. These corporate paramilitaries are seen as their future and their fortune. It’s not difficult, then, to imagine a future where the force of arms and law both will belong to the corporatocracy. If we value our future, and that of our heirs, we must see that the corporatocratic future does not arrive.

  5. how funny is that? a pro-corporate media giving very positive review of a pro-corporate protest? one might almost think they’re on the same side.

    IMO, police work should mostly involve diplomacy and problem solving, with the rare exception of violent crime. The fact that it’s turned into the “thuggery” you describe shows not only the slow death of notions like civic virtue, but also shows how little control we have over our own public servants. Those are OUR employees beating, pepper-spraying and mass arresting us. That’s pretty wacky to say the least.

    One Love, One Struggle,

  6. the tea party should’ve been the original occupy movement. But it’s obvious that the tea party has nothing to do with the rights of the people or anything to do with the peoples livelihood, savings and ability to get by without being stepped on by vast financial forces.

    If America had any exceptionalism the first thing it would do right now is remove teargas and tasters from the police force. and then it would fire every police chief in the nation that has been involved in a repression of the occupy movement. but we are not an exceptional country. It appears that exceptionalism means that you have the ability to tell others what to do while you don’t do it yourself.

    As I noted yesterday, my biggest fear is a major financial corporations compensating the police directly. At that point we are finished

  7. One thing I say to my fellow Occupiers in Ft Lauderdale is that we haven’t needed to protest for our rights on this scale in forty years, my whole lifetime. As important as our message is, the response to Occupy is completely unwarranted considering that civil rights are being violated without fear of reprisal. The kids who didn’t join in with the original protesters are now in charge, and more than happy to play another round of “beat the hippy”, except they conveniently forget the history that allowed people to gain equality. Worse, they ignore facts about how the country was founded; they compounded that with lies about how deals were struck in back room agreements, leading the country into a second depression.

    I can only see (with horror) that the physical reaction of the Establishment towards Occupy means the movement is striking a nerve. The fear of losing your place in the world is understandable. I’ve been there: after getting injured on the job, I was fired for that injury, and have spent the subsequent 2+ years trying to find permanent full-time employment. What isn’t forgivable using legislation aimed at terrorists, let alone actual violence, to back up the One Percent argument. They lost as soon as they pepper-sprayed a kettled protester, swung a baton, drove a moped over a protester’s legs, fired tear gas cannisters directly into a crowd, or any number of constitutional violations one cares to names.

    And yet carrying an automatic weapon into a crowd containing emotionally charged ralliers where children are present is perfectly acceptable. Spitting on the disabled is fine. Cheering the rescission of ill customers whose employers most likely have dead peasant policies on them is great sport. Booing a serviceman for his sexual orientation is mandatory.

    The police and other public safety officials are definitely supported by the Occupation, as fellow citizens who act in the greater good for less pay than is deserved aren’t completely to blame, although there certainly are individuals taking advantage of their position. The now iconic image of the officer walking past a line of handcuffed protesters is one of the worst we’ve seen- so far. This past weekend, Mayor Jean Quan made several claims regarding the recent police action against Occupy Oakland. The presence of the police at a peaceful occupation of a vacant building to create a community center provoked a defensive reaction. The first of her claims is that protesters broke into City Hall. However, the doors were unlocked, and people were prevented from leaving the area. Unfortunately, some took advantage of those open doors. On the flip side, burning the flag is still protected speech and carries no penalties. The second claim she’s made has to do with the costs of managing the Occupation (inflated), and that worse crimes are being committed because the police are required to stay near #OO. What then are the priorities of the Oakland Administration if free speech and assembly are greater threats to public safety than assault, rape, or murder?

    Too many of the first-hand accounts I’ve read jibe on the same points, whether they were at the new Encampment or City Hall. For Quan to state Occupy Oakland holds a bigger threat than rapists or murderers points to other motives than are much less than suspect, and supports the facts in Manny’s article. Welcome to the naked corporatization of political activity aided by the armed mercenaries from separate divisions of the same company that owns that particular politician.

  8. It reminds me of protestors being blasted with fire hoses and set upon by attack dogs while being beaten with police batons that I saw somewhere. history certainly does repeat itself.

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