The violence in the Occupy movement has to be stopped. And by that I mean the violence perpetrated against the protesters during the last two months.
If you’ve been watching, you may have noticed that violence seems to erupt whenever authorities respond to the demonstrations in full riot gear, seemingly eager to unleash a hail of rubber bullets, tear gas and insidious devices like the sound cannon used on protesters at Zuccotti Park in New York City Tuesday morning.
The trend has been so common that Occupy protesters have designed posters recently that state, “You can tell who is planning on violence by what they’re wearing when they show up,” illustrated by photos of officers approaching in riot gear. It would be humorous if people weren’t actually getting hurt.
But the real causalties here are the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.
The vast majority of the protesters have been overwhelmingly peaceful in their efforts and actions. Imagine thousands or tens of thousands of people living together in a park or on the street for days at a time to demand better leadership. Of course they have other things they could be doing, but instead they are taking time to try to change the priorities of the nation to act in the interest of its citizens rather than corporate interests.
These are people like yourself, perhaps more politically aware or active, that are exercising their constitutional right to peaceably assemble and express their discontent with the policies of the U.S. government and Wall Street.
The general consensus is that the nation’s economic policies have become corrupted and skewed to the advantage of the wealthiest one percent, the same one percent that has gained far too much influence over the government’s economic policies and regulations.
Whether you agree with them or not doesn’t matter. These are American citizens exercising their Constitutional rights, primarily freedom of speech.
To make an impression, an effective protest has to either be big, or it has to last long enough to gain attention, build momentum, and grow among the masses. Occupy Wall Street has done both.
But let’s face it, it is New York City. A lot of protesters couldn't just go home every night and come back during the day, so they had to literally camp out in nearby Zuccotti Park to continue to have their message heard. They were not there to camp; camping was a result of the political effort to assemble and petition the government. The camp was relatively well-organized and civilized, or you would have seen horror stories about drugs, rampant killings and violence amongst the group all over Fox News. Everybody was getting along fine, exercising their right to peacefully assemble. There was reportedly even a library of books donated by members to help educate others on economic and government policies in their downtime.
For the past three months Wall Street Occupiers held out, standing outside and displaying their signs with such “unreasonable” or “socialist” slogans as “People, not profits!,” “Main Street Not Wall Street,” and “Corporations are not people.” My favorite was a sign which read, “Separation of Corporation and State.”
But as the Occupy Wall Street protest gained more and more attention, it may have become too effective... at least too effective for government officials to tolerate any longer.
The original Occupy Wall Street protest had clearly evolved into a movement, as more demonstrations like Occupy Oakland, Occupy L.A., Occupy Washington and thousands of other protests emulated the original concept on main streets and college campuses across the nation. Occupy Oakland experienced its own violence last month. But even Oakland wasn’t as persistent as the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protest.
Suddenly Mayor Bloomberg gave the word and the “authorities” swept in at 1 a.m. Tuesday morning. Police helicopters hovered overhead as halogen spotlights lit up Liberty Plaza. Hundreds of officers raided the camp, of course in full riot gear, physically and forcefully evicting and arresting protesters, breaking and seizing their possessions, with no warning. About 200 citizens were arrested at the park or on the streets after the raid. Citizens said they had their tents, sleeping bags and supplies, and anything else they couldn’t grab quickly enough, taken by police and thrown in trash bins or piles while they were being forced to leave.
There were police barricades for blocks surrounding the streets around Liberty Plaza. Journalists and photographers with the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Reuters were reportedly barred from entering the area. And then the sound cannon was used on Occupiers along with the obligatory tear gas, batons and shields. New York City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez was arrested trying to get through the barricades to Zuccotti Park, and several journalists were allegedly assaulted by police while trying to cover the raid.
The wholesale sweep of the park was over fairly quickly, with hundreds of protesters arrested and others wandering the dangerous streets of New York City in the middle of the night, looking for somewhere else to go. By 4 a.m. the park was virtually empty. Authorities gathered up the possessions of the protesters and threw everything away like trash.
And in fact, Mayor Bloomberg justified the raid by claiming that the Occupy Wall Street encampment had become a public health hazard. All those dirty hippie types could infect the rest of the city, maybe even the nation.
The dis-ease that Bloomberg and company are vehemently trying to prevent from spreading isn’t physical. It’s ideological. And by throwing the protesters and their possessions out with the trash, the city is likewise trashing several of their Constitutional rights.
So now NYC has opened the park back up, but is barring protesters from bringing tents, tarps and sleeping bags, cooking food, or lying down in a prone position on the premises.
It’s nearly impossible to stage a long-term protest if you have nowhere to sleep at night, eat or rest, or even seek shelter from the cold at this time of year. So essentially the “health hazard” excuse is being used to strip these citizens of their first amendment rights to freedom of expression and to peaceably assemble to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
In doing so, the police also ignored the protesters fourth amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure of their persons and property. Not to mention assaulting them physically.
Similar scenes have taken place at Occupy Oakland, where ex-U.S. Marine Scott Olsen was hospitalized in an induced coma after receiving a critical brain injury when he was hit in the head by a tear gas canister aimed directly into the crowd. As a Marine, he served his country in the Middle East and survived unscathed, only to come home and nearly be killed by his own government while protesting.
At the University of California Berkely, known for being a politically active, progressive campus, demonstrators were attacked without provocation last week when the university ordered police to stop protesters from camping on the grounds. Videos of the attack show police in riot gear once again striking protesters with batons and shoving them with shields. You could hear the screams of a small asian student pinned between the crowd and officers as she was being brutally hit repeatedly in the ribs.
If you’re wondering why the authorities are reacting so severely to these protests, then it will be worth the struggle for the Occupy protesters. This is what they have been trying to warn mainstream America about, the loss of citizens’ rights and economic futures to the crony capitalism that has infected Wall Street and the nation.
If that’s what detractors of the Occupiers mean by saying that protesters act like they’re entitled, remember that it could just as easily be your liberties that are violated the next time, until no one remembers any longer what it was ever like to be “entitled” to Constitutional rights.
It’s a form of fascism that has settled into the government these days. If Mayor Bloomberg is interested, that would be the disease from which we need to be protected. Yet something tells me he’s not really the guy for the job.