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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Police Violence at Occupy Wall Street Protest was the Result of Police Incompetence

We're going to start right off with the ugly, just to get it out of the way. This was the scene last night in New York City, as the Occupy Wall Street protest once again turned into a police near-riot.

Fox 5, New York:

While covering the Occupy Wall Street protests on Wednesday night, Fox 5 photographer Roy Isen was hit in the eyes by pepper spray from a police officer and Fox 5 reporter Dick Brennan was hit by an officer's baton.

The protests on Wall Street continued to grow all day. The rallies and their participants are showing no signs of slowing down.

In the evening, crowds surged past barriers and NYPD officers moved in to contain the protesters. By many accounts, mayhem broke out.

Officers, many wearing white shirts indicating supervisor rank, swatted protesters with batons and sprayed them with mace, video from the scene showed.


"[Fox 5 photographer Roy] Isen and [reporter Dick] Brennan were there and witnessed the chaos," the report tells us. "At one point, Brennan was hit in the abdomen by a police baton and Isen got irritant in his eyes. Both journalists were all right and continued to cover the protests and arrests."

I went with the Fox 5 report, because it demonstrates the indiscriminate nature of the police's actions. It's hard to believe that a local news crew was trying to pick a fight with the cops. Crowd control efforts shouldn't have collateral damage. It's not difficult to piece together what happened last night; police screwed up crowd control, then panicked and completely overreacted when confronted with the consequences.

New York Observer has a first-hand account of the lead-up to the violence.

Around 9 p.m., a cohort of marchers were cordoned off by police officers on Wall Street. It looked as though there would be mass arrests. The police ended up shuttling the protesters down Williams Street and directing them back toward the park. The strategy by the NYPD seemed to be erecting more barriers to limit where the protesters could march. The Broad St. J train was inaccessible, blockaded by the NYPD and metal fences on Exchange Place, Broad Street and Wall Street. A group of Wisconsin tourists who had a reservation at Bobby Van’s steakhouse were forced to turn back to Times Square.

More barriers, more people hemmed in, more pressure -- like pinching down a hose. NYO again:

Who coordinated the barricade?

“Chiefs,” one blue-shirt outside the Broad Street Starbucks said. “Lots of chiefs.”

“Too many chiefs in the kitchen?” one of the techies asked. The police officer affirmed.

At this point issues of lawlessness or obedience are out the window. What we're talking about is pure physics. You can only squeeze a crowd in so far before they won't squeeze any more. And the crowd is big, by most accounts numbering thousands, so the people in the back can't see what's happening in the front. You can't stop a crowd on a dime, which is what the cops seem to have tried to do.

And then the dam burst.


It all started really peacefully, the march was fine and respectful. Once everyone got here, we tried to go down Broadway to march on Wall Street. There were literally thousands of people pressing up against the cops, who were blocking the entrance via Broadway. That's when two protesters who broke the police line at Wall Street got pepper sprayed. I heard a rumor, but I didn't see it, that an officer pulled out his Taser.

The two pepper sprayings were about 30 min apart, and in between those, a white shirt took out his baton and just started swinging everywhere. So then we went down on Reade street to find an alternate route onto Wall street, and all of a sudden there were dozens of cops of scooters. I turned to talk to a friend, then turned back, and two scooters were on the ground.

Three officers were on top of a 100 lb woman violently beating her. I mean they were really going at it, really hurting her. Two white shirts and one blue shirt. So we're all yelling "stop!" and eventually they get off. She looked awful. I talked to someone at Legal Aid and they sent a medic down to the 1st precinct to check up on her because, as they told me, they were afraid she'd "come out worse than she came in."

All of this could've been easily avoided. Protesters wanted to march down the street, so just let them do it. They're all peaceful enough, so what's the harm? It's a traffic annoyance, sure. But it's New York City -- the whole damned place is a traffic annoyance anyway. By trying to contain them too much, police broke their own barricades, just like over-inflating a balloon. Their actions after that are inexcusable and unforgivable.

At this point, indications are that the crowds will grow bigger, not smaller. According to Fox 5, "What was once a protest of powerful Wall Street financial firms and banks is growing into a larger movement about the working class, employment, poverty, education, and more."

As the crowds grow, incidents like last night's violence could become worse and much more consequential. New York City police would be wise to remember what the crowd chanted at them yesterday: "Cops are the 99%."

Failing that, they should realize that when law enforcement and the laws of physics bump heads, law enforcement will fail every time.


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