Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Order Reigns on Wall Street

I arrived at Zuccotti Park today around 1 pm, too late to have seen the eviction in the early morning hours. I did, however, see plenty of examples of how NYPD policing strategies raise tension and curb dissent. I also got a chance to think about how the Occupy movement can grow from this latest turn of events.

Along Broadway at the eastern edge of the park, around 1 pm today, the police had demonstrators and pedestrians squeezed between metal police barriers on the park side and a double line of police officers on the Broadway side. On the sidewalk, that made passing by the park crowded and at times tense.

For me, it was one more example of a problem that dates back to the Giuliani years: the practice of treating public assembly as a problem to be controlled. In the end, that makes for demonstrations hemmed into holding pens patrolled by lines of grim looking cops. On both the police and demonstrators' sides, this was not a situation conceived to cool down hotheads.

I also want to note that the Times reported that reporters were barred from the park when the evictions took place. As was noted in "Police Clear Zuccotti 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.

That's more proof, if you need any, that the fate of honest and independent journalism is inextricably linked to other freedoms like the right to protest. The First Amendment, as my late friend Jim Carey liked to point out, is more than a guarantee of freedom for journalists: it is an exhortation to gather and speak freely in a democratic way of life.

In the long run, I've always thought that the Occupy movement should value a continued presence in the park over holding turf for 24 hours around the clock. Equally important, it has to make some demands or make itself the street protest division of a movement that raises coherent demands of its own to get us out of this economic crisis.

In the long run, OWS lost to the cops last night and the right to demonstrate took another beating. In the long run, however, this can become a chance to regroup and come back fighting for a more just future.

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