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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Sanitized Eviction

by David Atkins

Not even 24 hours after the fact, the New York Times is already sanitizing the events at Zuccotti Park, while noting that the raid on the camp was meticulously planned and trained for in advance:

And so the police operation to clear Zuccotti Park of protesters unfolded after two weeks of planning and training. Officials had prepared by watching how occupations in other cities played out. A major disaster drill was held on Randalls Island, with an eye toward Zuccotti. Officials increased so-called disorder training — counterterrorism measures that involve moving large numbers of police officers quickly — to focus on Lower Manhattan...

One reason for the secrecy was a lesson learned by the city. On Oct. 14, officials wanted to clear the park, but then backed off as hundreds of protesters streamed in ahead of time after hearing of the plans.

The operation on Tuesday involved officers from various police units, including boroughwide task forces — scores of mobile officers who are usually used to flood high-crime neighborhoods.

Mr. Kelly said many people, almost like commuters, had been coming and going from the park during the day, making 1 a.m. a good time to move in. “It was appropriate to do it when the smallest number of people were in the park,” he said.

Emergency Service Unit trucks with klieg lights and loudspeakers gathered at Pike Slip and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, near the Manhattan Bridge, before moving out. The lights and prerecorded messages booming from the loudspeakers seemed to cow many protesters. As the community affairs officers moved into the park in their light-blue windbreakers, many protesters simply gathered their belongings and left.

No tents were touched until 1:45 a.m., the police said, giving the protesters time to gather their belongings. Other teams of officers were seen gathering on the perimeter to move in if arrests were needed in the park.

Reporters in the park were forced to leave. Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said it was for their safety. But many journalists said that they had been prevented from seeing the police take action in the park, and that they had been roughly handled by officers. Mr. Browne said television camera trucks on Church Street, along the park’s western border, were able to capture images.

As the police moved west through the dense tangle of protesters’ personal belongings, including luggage and plastic lawn and leaf bags stuffed with clothing, crews from the Sanitation Department followed, scooping up what was left behind...

Note the pervasive use of the passive voice, as well as the minimization of the media crackdown and police violence at the scene. Also, of course, the only rowdiness was on the part of the protesters:

Some of the rowdiest action of the night took place south of the park. Around 5 a.m., south of Pine Street, one protester jumped on the hood of a police car, and others were seen releasing the air from the tires of a police van. At one point, a piece of plywood came flying from the crowd. In the end, one officer and one protester were hospitalized.

Actually, this is what it looked like:

and more from Amy Goodman at Democracy Now:

This was not a clean, sanitary peaceful operation on rowdy vagrants. This was a violent assault on the civil liberties of Americans peacefully protesting a corrupt system, complete with a coordinated total media blackout.

As Dave Dayen and I have noted, these scenes and tactics are reminiscent of third-world dictatorships, not modern democracies.

Police brutality has been a fixture in high-crime, mostly minority neighborhoods for decades. But this sort of highly coordinated totalitarian brutality combined with media secrecy hasn't really been seen in the U.S. since the days of the civil rights movement.

One can judge the importance of certain kinds of oppression to the elite social order, by the reaction of the forces that be against resistance to said oppression. In America of the 1960s and 1970s, the resort to this sort of coordinated totalitarian response was limited to use against advocates for racial equality in the South, advocates for open acceptance of gay rights, and occasionally against those who opposed the escalation of war in Vietnam.

Today, it's clear that the most powerful forces in America aren't afraid of advocacy against racial or sexual orientation discrimination, or even advocacy against the military-industrial complex. The gigantic wave of protests against the invasion of Iraq were not met with this sort of force.

To touch the nerve of the real powers in modern America, all one need do is target the financial sector and the gross inequality it has produced. That is who really runs the country--not the racists, not the haters, and not the warmongers. The challenge of my generation is to destroy the power of the banking sector as surely as our parents helped destroy the power of the racists, bigots and sexists before them.

It is a challenge that will be repeatedly met with force, proving that it is the most important challenge of the day.

And just as in decades past, it will require a mix of inside and outside tactics, focused on peaceful raising of popular consciousness and pressure toward legislative action, to get the necessary results. This will be a long and painful struggle with many facets, and the Occupy movement is just the beginning.