Special to the NNPA from the Final Call
NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – Bloodied but unbowed, the Occupy Wall St. movement has vowed to resist brutal assaults by police on peaceful protests calling for economic fairness and a government that serves ordinary people—not just the super-rich.
On a cold New York City afternoon, two days after an historic “Day of Action,” a few hundred protesters gathered in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. A few feet from where the World Trade Center towers once stood, they talked about the way forward and heard speakers discuss topics such as the financial crisis in Italy and how it would impact ordinary Americans.
What they didn’t do was run and hide after a major crackdown on demonstrations and forced evictions of Occupy encampments around the country, where demonstrators have lived in parks, on downtown streets and near the offices of powerful institutions to show their distrust of the ruling class and their dissatisfaction with current conditions.
“We are moving forward,” Mark Bray, a media coordinator told The Final Call. “Many of our people are in jail, some have been injured, we know eventually some may die. But we are in the early stages of a social movement that will change this country,” Mr. Bray said.
With the two month anniversary of the Occupy Movement Nov. 17, a movement started with a few thousand young people responding to a call sparked by resentment over corporate bailouts and economic inequality has gone global.
Young people, mostly from middle-class White American families, coined the phrase “We are the 99 percent.” That cry has echoed across the country and the world capturing the plight of the masses of people left behind economically while a small ruling elite benefits handsomely on the financial and political sides.
Angela Davis, a college professor and onetime Black Panther Party revolutionary, writing Nov. 16 in the Guardian UK newspaper said, “This new Occupy Movement imagined itself from the beginning as the broadest possible community of resistance—the 99 percent against the 1 percent—who are the most affluent sectors of society; big banks, financial institutions and corporate executives.”
America’s political establishment answered the peaceful Occupy movement Nov. 17 with brutal assaults by police in riot gear, some likened the heavy-handedness to old school fascism. So violent was the response that some returning veterans condemned the police for using weapons and tactics not permitted by occupying U.S. troops in war torn nations.
In Los Angeles, hundreds marched through downtown and 27 people were arrested. In Portland, police blocked protesters from crossing a bridge to the financial district, arresting 25 on disorderly conduct charges. In Berkeley, Calif., police cleared out a protest camp, arresting two.
In Atlanta, 18 protesters were arrested for blocking traffic, while in Dallas, 100 police officers in riot gear cleared the Occupy camp outside of city hall, citing unsanitary conditions and safety concerns. Eighteen people were arrested. The same happened in Philadelphia where 300 tents had been placed next to city hall to house protesters.
Protests targeted for crackdown include camps and demonstrators in Las Vegas, St. Louis, Seattle, Wash., and Boston and the Huffington Post, on Nov. 18, showed photographs of police on the campus of the University of Calif. at Davis brandishing pepper spray canisters, some allegedly dousing students sitting on the ground in peaceful protest.
New York City police crackdown most severe
But, it was New York City that became the poster child for excessive police crowd control tactics and the chilling use of force to squelch free speech, according to activists. Two hundred fifty protesters were arrested, some bloodied by police using metal batons.
Some policing experts said the crowd control was aggressive, but not excessive. First Amendment experts said televised interactions between police and demonstrators can hurt the goal of protests and discourage others from joining.
“Everyone has the right to exercise First Amendment rights—if actions cross the line and threaten health and safety of others, we will respond accordingly,” said New York’s billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“Mayor Bloomberg, who benefited from Wall St. greed, has no compunction against ruthlessly repressing those who dare exercise their constitutional rights to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances that he helped to create,” activists responded.
Mayor Bloomberg, the world’s 30th wealthiest individual, grabbed national headlines after his police force’s midnight raid Nov. 15 on the encampment at Zuccotti Park, claiming the compound was a health hazard with serious safety concerns. Protestors were allowed back in the park but not tents or sleeping bags and a court sided with the city denying protestors the right to camp out.
Anthony Batalla, 20, from the predominately White middle-class community of Astoria Queens, N.Y. told The Final Call he was rousted from his tent by police and beaten. He showed off scars as proof, including a large bruise to his rib section. When asked why he had returned, Mr. Batalla said, “I will not let them scare me into not standing in solidarity with others who are fighting against economic inequality.”
Mr. Batalla said his father has worked for the Post Office for 38 years, but his parents may lose their home. He had been in Zuccotti Park since Oct. 4. Rani Shamie, 30, said he has been at the Occupy encampment for five or six weeks and was an eyewitness the morning police in riot gear beat women who were in tents. “I want the constitution to be first; not the capitalist agenda. For the past 280 years, we have been moving the constitution forward; and we will resist the repression against our ideals,” he said.
Federal Dept. of Homeland Security may be coordinating response
It appears police and politicians did in fact prepare—over one week at least a dozen cities moved to evict Occupy protesters from public spaces, with police actions sharing similar characteristics.
In newspaper accounts, some unnamed Dept. of Justice officials admitted that there had been coordinated action with the help of the Dept. of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal police agencies.
But analysts note Occupy demonstrations are not criminal activities and argue police should not be treating them as such, and the coordination shows the crackdown is political.
Oakland’s Mayor Jean Quan mentioned during an interview with the British Broadcasting Network that she was on a conference call with 17 other cities, discussing the crackdowns before they happened. Mayor Quan’s police department sparked a brutal confrontation which resulted in critically injuring Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen, followed by general labor strike in the port city.
A White House press secretary insisted Nov. 16 that the federal government was not coordinating the attacks, adding, “Every municipality has to make its own decision about how to handle their issues.”
But the federal government may also have the capacity to oversee such crackdowns through information fusion centers working at local levels. Before the National Fusion Center Conference in Kansas City, Mo., which came after the 9-11 attacks,
Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, on March 11, 2009, said, “Fusion centers are going to be key in how we increase our ability to protect the homeland. We have created kind of a seamless network of information-sharing not just vertically state to federal, local to state to federal, but also horizontally across the country at different levels. Fusion centers will not be run by the federal government—fusion centers are primarily a phenomenon of your locality, your local and your state, and they grow from that basis and from that recognition,” Secy. Napolitano added.
The Homeland Security secretary told the National Fusion Center Coordination group that her department had given $327 million in direct funding and another $812 million for “broader information sharing” to back the fusion centers.
On Nov. 16, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund and the National Lawyers Guild Defense Committee filed a Freedom of Information Act brief with the Dept. of Justice, Dept. of Homeland Security, FBI, Central Intelligence Agency and the National Park Service, requesting any information related to any involvement of federal agencies in planning the crackdown against the Occupy Movement.
“The severe crackdown on the Occupation Movement appears to be part of a national strategy to crush the movement,” said a spokesperson for the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.
“The banks and the super-rich are becoming very concerned about ‘Occupy Wall St.’, and so, the level of repression will escalate,” predicted Oakland civil rights attorney/activist Dan Siegel, who is also a member of the National Lawyers Guild. “The one percent won’t give up without a fight,” Mr. Siegel told The Final Call.
Mr. Siegel resigned as an advisor to Mayor Quan after her crackdown against the Occupy Oakland encampment. “When I see all of the 20-year-olds and teenagers engaged in the movement, it gives me a great sense of optimism,” he said.
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