Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Occupy: State Powers Crush the Flowers

In This Edition:
- Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper on Lessons Not Learned
- Glenn Greenwald on the Pacifying Effects of Militarized Police Power (must read)
- A Compendium of Police Violence Against Occupy Protestors
- "You Can Crush the Flowers, But You Can’t Stop the Spring"


Back on October 26, 2011, in a short lead-in to news about the police riot in Oakland, I mentioned the militarization of American police forces over the last 20, more realistically, 30, years. This month I've seen a few articles that address the issue much more effectively than I can, so I'm posting them here tonight.

Police Pepper Spraying UC Davis (YouTube capture)

The first one is by former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, who was in charge during the WTO protests, aka, the Battle in Seattle almost 10 years ago this month.

Writes Stamper:
More than a decade later, the police response to the Occupy movement, most disturbingly visible in Oakland—where scenes resembled a war zone and where a marine [protester] remains in serious condition from a police projectile—brings into sharp relief the acute and chronic problems of American law enforcement. Seattle might have served as a cautionary tale, but instead, US police forces have become increasingly militarized, and it’s showing in cities everywhere: the NYPD “white shirt” coating innocent people with pepper spray, the arrests of two student journalists at Occupy Atlanta, the declaration of public property as off-limits and the arrests of protesters for “trespassing.”

The paramilitary bureaucracy and the culture it engenders—a black-and-white world in which police unions serve above all to protect the brotherhood—is worse today than it was in the 1990s. Such agencies inevitably view protesters as the enemy. And young people, poor people and people of color will forever experience the institution as an abusive, militaristic force—not just during demonstrations but every day, in neighborhoods across the country.

Paramilitary Policing From Seattle to Occupy Wall Street
Norm Stamper | November 9, 2011

A second article, by Glenn Greenwald, is a most thoughtful summary of the meaning and dangers of police force and state violence in America, as seen today and in the past. It is simply the best piece I remember reading on the subject over the years. (But then. . . there is the problem of my memory! ;-)) If you don't read anything else on this blog, please read the excerpts below.:

Police pepper spraying and arresting students at UC Davis
As Chief Stamper would now say--"Why?"

The roots of the UC-Davis pepper-spraying
. . . .
Despite all the rights of free speech and assembly flamboyantly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the reality is that punishing the exercise of those rights with police force and state violence has been the reflexive response in America for quite some time. . . . .

The intent and effect of such abuse is that it renders those guaranteed freedoms meaningless. If a population becomes bullied or intimidated out of exercising rights offered on paper, those rights effectively cease to exist. Every time the citizenry watches peaceful protesters getting pepper-sprayed — or hears that an Occupy protester suffered brain damage and almost died after being shot in the skull with a rubber bullet — many become increasingly fearful of participating in this citizen movement, and also become fearful in general of exercising their rights in a way that is bothersome or threatening to those in power. That’s a natural response, and it’s exactly what the climate of fear imposed by all abusive police state actions is intended to achieve: to coerce citizens to “decide” on their own to be passive and compliant — to refrain from exercising their rights — out of fear of what will happen if they don’t.

The genius of this approach is how insidious its effects are: because the rights continue to be offered on paper, the citizenry continues to believe it is free. . . . .

Although excessive police force has long been a reflexive response to American political protests, two developments in the post-9/11 world have exacerbated this. The first is that the U.S. Government — in the name of Terrorism — has aggressively para-militarized the nation’s domestic police forces by lavishing them with countless military-style weapons and other war-like technologies, training them in war-zone military tactics, and generally imposing a war mentality on them. Arming domestic police forces with para-military weaponry will ensure their systematic use even in the absence of a Terrorist attack on U.S. soil; they will simply find other, increasingly permissive uses for those weapons. Responding to peaceful protests and other expressions of growing citizenry unrest with brute force is a direct by-product of what we’ve allowed to be done to America’s domestic police forces in the name of the War on Terror (and, before that, in the name of the War on Drugs).

The second exacerbating development is more subtle but more important: the authoritarian mentality that has been nourished in the name of Terrorism. It’s a very small step to go from supporting the abuse of defenseless detainees (including one’s fellow citizens) to supporting the pepper-spraying and tasering of non-violent political protesters. It’s an even smaller step to go from supporting the power of the President to imprison or kill anyone he wants (including one’s fellow citizens and even their teenaged children) with no transparency, checks or due process to supporting the power of the police and the authorities who command them to punish with force anyone who commits the “crime” of non-compliance. At the root of all of those views is the classic authoritarian mindset: reflexive support for authority, contempt for those who challenge them, and a blind faith in their unilateral, unchecked decisions regarding who is Bad and deserves state-issued punishment. . . . .

Link to entire article on Salon

The third article is a collection of visuals, primarily YouTube videos, highlighting some of the more offensive actions towards Occupy protesters by various police departments across this country over the last month.

Too Much Violence and Pepper Spray at the OWS Protests: The Videos and Pictures
The Atlantic

UC Davis Protestors Pepper Sprayed


The fourth article is an essay in defense of Occupy Wall Street from Tom Dispatch, with the following prologue to Rebecca Solnit's article just below it:
. . . .
The police, up-armored in full riot gear, with the sort of surveillance paraphernalia, helicopters, and high-tech cameras that were a far more minimal aspect of domestic policing before 9/11, were clearly thinking counter-terrorism.

They were the representatives not just of New York’s billionaire mayor and the bankers and brokers who had previously made the area their own, but of the ever more militarized national security state that had blossomed like some errant set of weeds in the ruins of the World Trade Center towers. They were domestic grunts for a new order in Washington as well as New York that has, by now, lost the ability to imagine solving problems in a civil and civilian fashion.

They represent those who have ruled this country since 9/11 in the name of our safety and security, while they made themselves, and no one else, safe and secure. It is an order that has based itself on kidnapping, torture, secret prisons, illegal surveillance, assassination, permanent war, militarized solutions to every problem under the sun, its own set of failed occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the closest of relations with a series of crony capitalist corporations intent on making money off anyone’s suffering as long as the going is good.

Behind the police, directly or indirectly, stands that bureaucratic monster of post-9/11 domestic "safety," the Department of Homeland Security. And behind both of them, without a doubt, that giant tangle of agencies -- 17 in all -- with an $80 billion-plus budget that go under the rubric of “intelligence” and dwarf the intelligence bureaucracy of the Cold War era, when the U.S. actually had an enemy worth speaking of. . . . .

'You Can Crush the Flowers, But You Can’t Stop the Spring'
Dream big. Occupy your hopes. Talk to strangers. Live in public. Don’t stop now.
by Rebecca Solnit
. . . .
Alexander Dubcek, the government official turned hero of the Prague Spring uprising of 1968, once said, “You can crush the flowers, but you can’t stop the spring.” . . . .

It’s as if the best of the spirit of the Obama presidential campaign of 2008 was back -- without the foolish belief that one man could do it all for civil society.  In other words, this is a revolt, among other things, against the confinement of decision-making to a thoroughly corrupted and corporate-money-laced electoral sphere and against the pitfalls of leaders. And it represents the return in a new form of the best of the post-9/11 moment.

As for the worst after 9/11 -- you already know the worst. You’ve lived it.  The worst was two treasury-draining wars that helped cave in the American dream, a loss of civil liberties, privacy, and governmental accountability. The worst was the rise of a national security state to almost unimaginable proportions, a rogue state that is our own government, and that doesn’t hesitate to violate with impunity the Geneva Convention, the Bill of Rights, and anything else it cares to trash in the name of American "safety" and "security."  The worst was blind fealty to an administration that finished off making this into a country that serves the 1% at the expense, or even the survival, of significant parts of the 99%. More recently, it has returned as another kind of worst: police brutality (speaking of blind fealty to the 1%). . . . .

In the meantime, a domestic-violence-prone government is squandering a fortune on a little-mentioned extravagance in financially strapped American cities: police brutality, wrongful arrest, and lawsuits over civil-rights violations. New York City -- recall those pepper-sprayed captive young women, that legal observer with a police scooter parked on top of him, and all the rest -- you’re going to have a giant bill due in court, just as you did after the 2004 Republican convention fiasco: New York has spent almost a billion dollars paying for the collateral damage already done by its police force over the past dozen years.
The desperately impoverished city of Oakland paid out more than $2 million in recompense for the behavior of the Oakland Police at a nonviolent blockade at the Oakland Docks after the invasion of Iraq broke out in 2003, but seems to have learned nothing from it. Surely payouts in similar or larger quantities are due to be handed out again, money that could have gone to schools, community clinics, parks, libraries, to civilization instead of brutalization. . . . .

Read the entire thing here.

Iris Dement Wasteland Of The Free


Woodie Guthrie's "The Unwelcome Guest" - by Billy Bragg and Wilco


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