What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Accounting for Violence

What a head does to a window in NYPD hands
So what I saw last night was an absolute abomination. Six months of occupy protests, nothing has compared. I have no clue how many arrests there were last night, and I can't feel like there could have been much of any justification for any either. What I do know is that I saw cops fists flying at people on the ground. I saw batons swinging at a pile of people that had been dominoed into each other by the police mercilessly pushing back, and I saw a woman who started having a seizure while being arrested continuous bang her head against the ground while the cops sat next to her wondering what to do. Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

So the day started out simple enough day, I went to the Left Forum and listened to some very interesting discussions on the use of drones in policing, what current day movements can learn from the Eastern European revolutions of 1989, about Occupying philosophy, Education and Capitalism, etc. These were just a few of the hundreds of panels at the left forum this weekend. We had an Occupy think tank in the courtyard on “what a real/revolutionary bank would look like”. I tried to decided between a panel on transnational Africa and globalization, or China rising, but instead stood in the hallway and talked at length about deep thoughts of the day with a few other participants until we decided to head over to Liberty Square and see what was going on.

I had walked over a little earlier as rumors of bedlam had spread throughout the Left Forum (it was only a few blocks away). It wasn't bedlam though, it was a bunch of people in a park having a festive time. Drumming, dancing, talking, rejoicing, holding signs. It was great, the only stories I heard of bedlam revolved around the police “arresting people for dancing”. Not sure how that is, but that was the word on the street. Second time around it seemed about the same, no big deal, generally festive. A group of us went for Indian food and had long conversations about all sorts of things occupy related.

I started getting a bit antsy and wanted to head back to the park, it was 9:30. The park was interesting, just as we came out onto the street we heard cheers and/or shouts from the park, still a couple blocks away. It was loud, like at a small stadium, we hurried along. The march from the Left Forum had just gotten there. Michael Moore and Cornell West had lead a large contingent of people following Moore's evening address to the crowd at the forum. The park was full of so much energy. But no one was doing anything wrong or provoke anything.

Step in the plus brigade I think. There had been a General Assembly. I wasn't really a part of it. I had listened at first but was more interested in seeing the people, catching up with friends, etc. I didn't find myself in such a festive mood in general but couldn't put my finger on it. A lot of ups and downs of late, both in and out of Occupy.

All of a sudden though, the GA seemed to just jump up and move in unison from one end of the park to another. And when I say in unison, I mean in step and chant. Obviously the trail of cops follows along dumbfounded, reacting to a simple adolescent game, with confused looks and way to much seriousness. I wasn't really into it, but a huge group of everyone else was. Myabe I'm too old!! Ha ha!! I just liked watching the cops wondering what was going on. But of course such innocence had to all go wrong.

A few moments passed and the sound of bag pipes were heard. A group of bag-pipers came wondering upon the park into an ambush. They were all dressed in St Patty's day garb, kilted and greened out. The had heavy accents and couldn’t have been more than 20ish. As it turns out they were just a group of french speaking kids out marching around Manhattan playing bag-pipes on St. Patrick's Day – with NO affiliation with Occupy. Imagine it, they turn the corner and there is this mass gathering of people in a park! Woo hoo!! They simply march along and try to enter the park. I mean why not, it's St. Patty's Day, and there's a festive group of people in a park. Let's go march through there, right?

The police attacked them. Grabbing the bag pipes, trying to rip them away from them, a couple go down, they are just trying to scramble and get away. Of course all of the occupiers that had just come joyously bouncing over to greet these random bag-pipers immediately has cameras and lights all on the police brutality unfolding. These kids were scared to death, covering there faces, running wherever they could, police pushing and shoving and grabbing them. I mean, these are innocent kids playing the bag pipes on St. Patty's Day. The plain and simply DID NOT deserve to be “treated like occupiers”. Yeah, I say that because we are treated differently. Hence the counter-terrorism squad members of the NYPD down there That is the way Occupy is treated. Terrorists. Yeah, that's right, non-violent protest is considered terrorism right here in “the land of the free”. 

Just in case that's too blury, it says "NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau"

What has this country turned into?

Oh, this is just the beginning, it gets better (worse, much worse actually). So following this ugly show of police force, the occupation starts bringing out banners and other things. Wrapping the park in the voice of Occupy. One by one, three tents with statements on them pop up. And not pop up to sleep in, but literally pop up on giant sticks. Two person dome tens with protest writing on them. The police start massing, this is obviously a direct a front to their what? “Manliness?” Yes, that's probably a good term to use, that is really what the NYPD is about. Testosterone, lots of it. The police can do what they want and when, laws mean nothing. As a legal observer said to me when I asked if something we were watching was illegal: “it doesn't matter, of course its not illegal, but they'll arrest you anyway because disobeying a police officer can be made illegal. They can do whatever they want, and they get away with it no matter.”

This is the world we live in.

So they come enmasse to clear the park. They slowly push everyone to the one end of the park. But a brave group of protesters don't move. They actually lock arms and paivly sit down. They aren't going anywhere. This is a public park. Open to the public 24 hours a day. Or at least legally it is. I see police fists flying. Pushing, shoving, dragging, struggling, punching. No one is provoking anything. It's not the protestors doing the pushing, shoving, dragging, or struggling, punching, its the cops. A wave of blue clad soldiers sweeps the park clean of its voice, of it open space. In come the barricades. The park is cleared. The protestors mass on the edges. A number of them leave on a march. Take it to the streets the say. I stay.
All of a sudden everyone starts moving uphill towards the east of the park. Some kind of commotion, people are crying. It's tough to get close at first, all you can see is a well dressed woman in yellow writhing on the ground. As I get closer she comes up to all fours, gasping for anything, as if looking for a last breath from anywhere, panicking. The cops, seeming dumbfounded again, stand watching. A couple trying to do something, what is unknown. I didn't see what happened in the beginning, but it came to light later that she was being arrested, had handcuffs on and was being dragged and treated fairly rough when she started having a seizure. According to onlookers, everyone but the police abusing her recognized she was having a seizure, the cops apparently just continued to push, pull, yank, and some said even hit. Apparently once they figured out she wasn't struggling but actually having a medical problem they just let her down to the ground.

As this went on for what seemed like an eternity; she alternated between several positions. She would come up on all fours gasping for air, a blank gaze on her face as if nothing was being seen, only felt. They would give her oxygen. Then she would collapse, lifelessly to the ground. Smashing her head to the ground at one point. It was horrifying. This went on repeatedly, they got her on her back at one point, only to watch her go into convulsions and repeatedly hit the back of her head on the concrete sidewalk. Even she felt it. She looked at us for help, the onlookers, as she tried to reach her hand back to cushion the blow. Helplessly, her convulsions wouldn't allow it. The police did nothing, kneeling near her, doing nothing. Yeah, I know, your supposed to let a seizure happen - so long as the person isn't hurting themselves. Cushion her head for god's sake! The ambulance EMT's did little more (called by occupiers of course). Eventually they just picked her up and tried to put her in the ambulance. It wasn't working, back onto the ground she went. The police then made a row of themselves so we couldn't see anymore. Everyone watching was mortified. Their ineptitude. It was such a horrible helpless thing to see. We were penned in behind a barricade, a mass of people behind us trying to see. That was when they started pushing.

I was right at the barricade, seemingly trapped. A mass of people behind us, and angry police pushing the barrier forcefully back. Now I have only not done what an officer asked twice during this protest. Both involved hypocrisy. Once when on was telling me to get back while there was another one telling me not to be in the street behind me. I got bench pressed onto my ass into the street that time. This time again, I was told to get back into a street. Which is highly arrestable, both illegal and dangerous. But it didn't matter what was behind us, they were going to push no matter, and for no reason but because they didn't want us there seeing their ineptitude. The poor woman having a seizure, her skirt up around her waste, no one caring for her or her dignity. The brutalize us to cover up their own incompetence.

So as they push, there is no where to go, I’m trying to back peddle, but I’m not turning my back on them, I wouldn't trust them for a second. My feet can't go back, they get caught between someone else's and the moving barricade. Down I go, trapped under the moving barricade. They stop pushing, I only remember hearing someone say, "man down" and Lily trying desperately to help me with every ounce in her. I get back to my feet, they start pushing again. But there's still no where to go and they don't care. They push us all out into the street, then across it. Everyone seems to be thinking that must be it, we're back, the barricades stay on the other side. Then they just start coming at us. Batons out they start to swing them. All I could see was batons and anger. People start trying to back up, to run if such a thing is possible in such a small space. We manage to get through on our side, but a whole slew of people couldn't get back, there were too many. One falls, then they all do. There's a pile of people trying to get up and all the cops can do is swing their batons at it. Hitting people stranded on the ground, piled upon each other.

We're two blocks away now, the national lawyer's guild is there taking stories, seeing who has video of it. Everyone stands and stares in disbelief, some go to the ambulance for medical attention. Everyone is shaken.

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