Occupy Wall Street and the 'Crime' of Non-violent Dissent
By Ritt Goldstein
Copyright October 2011
I just watched video of an alleged observer with the National Lawyer's Guild being struck by a New York City police scooter, screaming in agony as his foot was pinned under it, then arrested for kicking the scooter in freeing his trapped foot. I watched videos earlier in the protests of Occupy Wall Street's non-violent freedom fighters being pepper sprayed, one video, of four women simultaneously subjected to this torturous punishment, thankfully went global. But history shows the price of popular change is too often measured in the agony of those pursuing it, and today's efforts, the struggle towards a genuine 'liberty and justice for all', are not proving an exception.
Pepper Sprayed in DC photo by Rob Kall
Every day I continue to read of a number of further instances of Occupy's heroes being pepper sprayed and abused, and every day their courage makes it difficult to recall a time that I've been prouder to be an American. On many occasions, some years ago, I too was pepper sprayed, and I too was perceived by some as having committed 'a crime', the 'crime' of Non-violent Dissent.
In 2005, a German film emerged that garnered critical acclaim for its examination of such 'criminality', the setting being 1940s Nazi Germany, the name of the film is 'Sophie Scholl - The Final Days'. It examines how non-violent dissent has indeed sometimes been quite criminalized, sometimes even demanding the ultimate sacrifice. Sophie, her brother, and a friend were tortured, then tried and executed by guillotine on February 22, 1943.
It might be well for those attacking Occupy particpants to see this film, to be reminded of what kind of State uses brutal force against those brave souls with the vision and courage to attempt the righting of grievous wrongs.
In 2006, New York Times film critic Stephen Holden wrote of the film: In a climate of national debate in the United States about the overriding of certain civil liberties to fight terrorism, the movie looks back on a worst possible scenario in which such liberties were taken away. It raises an unspoken question: could it happen here? And given the beatings, the abuses, and the pepper sprayings that have occurred, the question of how far from what's left of the Constitution our government might go is a good one, particularly if the Occupy movement continues to succeed and expand as it is.
As ample video evidence has shown, too many today are far more interested in protecting privilege and property than people or their rights.
As readers may recall, it was only recently that 700 non-violent protesters were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge under 'questionable circumstances'. Many protesters claimed they were led onto the bridge's roadway by police, police alleging protesters presence on the bridge roadway was a crime, a 'crime' that allowed police to arrest 700. However, an October 4th class-action lawsuit filed against New York City by a group of these protesters essentially labeled that police action 'entrapment'.
While the mass arrest galvanized support instead of dissipating it, it would seem the fact of the arrest makes a statement as to the course some seeking to suppress dissent are willing to take. The involvement of a journalist for a right-wing magazine, American Spectator, in the mass pepper spraying by police at Washington's Smithsonian Museum highlights a further concern.
Of course, in a real way it's a measure of Occupy's success that such a 'climate of repression' exists. But, the key question is what will the 'climate' facing the courageous become, how far will America 's police -- police that are a real part of the victimized 99% -- actually go?
There was a time when this writer once wrote laws instead of articles. It was a time when I believed there were limits as to what one might face in a democratic society, even if one was 'rocking the boat'. And, I did 'rock' things a bit, chairing a police accountability hearing in Connecticut's legislature, a hearing centered upon why an elected Statewide Civilian Oversight Board for police was needed, a board to prevent conduct such as that we are too often now witnessing, and worse.
The hearing contained testimony from academics, police experts, politicos, activists and victims, with much of it nightmarishly riveting. The hour long video of excerpts from that hearing tells a story, one of the fallacy that 'limits' to the abuse one may face do always exist --sometimes they don't. Among many other things, an alleged murder plot upon an activist that made the Hartford Courant was discussed, as was police brutality, alleged rape by police, vandalism of a sitting mayor's own home, and considerably more.
While the video is from a few years back, it is perhaps worth watching today more than ever.
The Courant article on the alleged murder plot is titled "Colchester Officers Accused Of Death Plot", and the opening line reads: A state police informant says he was offered $10,000 by two town police officers to make ''disappear'' a man who had lodged a brutality complaint against the officers. I'll add that I'm writing this article from Sweden, and that some months after the hearing, life-threatening circumstances forced me to flee The States, my existence being one in exile since.
Fortunately, opportunities for effective protest have changed considerably in the interim, increasing numbers having become sufficiently aware to face the harsh realities that non-violent protest can mean, and thus able to face abuse to their fellows without their own fears leading them into denial of it. There is safety in numbers, numbers which did not exist until recently, and it is indeed these numbers, these many, that will pave the path to change.