Police with zip ties

Police line up outside Liberty Square on March 17, 2012 (Photo: @ChapeauDefee, used with permission)

Also see: Firedoglake’s liveblog of September 17

How the NYPD Uses Memories of Brutality to Intimidate A Movement

As a survivor of an abusive intimate relationship, I find chilling similarities with how the New York City Police Department treats Occupy Wall Street and other peaceful protesters.

All through the three days of celebration of the first anniversary of OWS, police made targeted and random arrests, snatching both protesters and journalists alike off sidewalks and out of other public spaces. Occupiers were dragged, kicked, and beaten. They lost their shoes, so that jail support put out a desperate call for donations of flip flops. Though there were many arrested in deliberate acts of civil disobedience, others were grabbed purely for intimidation.

During September 17, a member of the mainstream media saw my press badge and stopped to chat with me at a gathering outside the American Indian Museum. The gist of our conversation was that he felt NYPD had become gentler in their treatment of protesters. This was an attitude I’ve seen almost anywhere that the threat of police repression looms large.

Police wrestle a protester to the ground

An arrest in J.P. Morgan Chase Bank plaza during the 99 Revolutions portion of September 17, 2012 (Photo: Kit O'Connell)

That night, Liberty Square (officially Zuccotti Park) was full of people, thousands were gathered there. The tools of the state — Bloomberg’s private police army — were arrayed all around us outside. Hundreds of cops, dozens of police motorcycles, NYPD flood lights, and all terrain vehicles were at the ready. The sound of a helicopter whirled overhead until the booming rhythm of a giant drum circle drowned out the sound. The energy was high and happy as a “People’s Assembly” of hundreds shared their hopes, dreams and concerns.

After the assembly, the mood quickly turned to tension. When my media team encountered the Protest Chaplains, no strangers to police action, they had so much trepidation about what was about to happen that they considered leaving the site entirely before ultimately remaining to witness what many thought would be a night of police busting heads and breaking ribs. Police massed on every corner then illegally cleared the sidewalks. Brookstone, the private security firm which guards Zuccotti from the evils of oversized backpacks and sleeping bags left the park, reminding witnesses of eviction night and other scenes of violence. Police in riot helmets and “white shirt” supervisors swirled into the park. Other cops banged their nightsticks on the sidewalk menacingly, or merely lined up with their blunt instruments proudly displayed.

Within an hour, what was essentially a huge celebration of freedom and hope was ruined. Clusters of street journalists hung nervously around the edge of the park, filming and tweeting but ready to flee at any moment. The crowd thinned to just a couple hundred of those ready to risk arrest and injury. The drumming continued for a time, but it’s tone became angry; we were no longer partying. We were resisting.

Then it was over. The floodlights came down. Official vehicles drove away in slow parades, blue and red lighs flashing. Liberty Square could remain occupied overnight, as the law actually requires, as long as no one tried to sleep. By the end of the night, numbers had dwindled to a few dozen sleepy people. The peaceable, and legal assembly was gone.

Is this the kinder face of the NYPD? No.

If a woman said her partner was better now because he only scared her instead of hurting her this time, no sane person would agree. If a man beats his spouse, at some point he learns that he only needs to threaten violence to get his way. The same has become true of the police. After a year of beatings and pepper spray, of batons and political prisoners, the state knows how easily it can intimidate.

The mainstream media has convinced the public to buy into this attitude. If I film an officer shoving a journalist, or grabbing a protester when no one is being detained, I’ll inevitably be told not to call it police brutality because it “could be so much worse.”

We tolerate from police what we’d never tolerate from a civilian. When will someone open a shelter for our battered rights?