While it is still too early to study the impact of the Occupy Movement, it has been enough time to study the way various cities and states responded to the populist movement all across the United States.
Since its start in Zuccotti Park, a year ago next month, Occupy has spread to every corner of this great nation of ours. It revealed an underlying discontent with a system that has become corrupted and decadent at the cost of the workers who make it possible. From Alaska to Florida, every piece of this nation almost overnight had populist, peaceful uprisings. Predictably, some of those in power felt threatened, but what pattern can we draw from the various mayors and governors responses to the movement?
With crackdowns in cities as varied as Oakland and New York, run by a Democrat and Republican respectively, it looks like the reasoning for the crackdowns has little to do with party affiliation. But if we delve in, we find a different story begin to emerge.
Let us start with what is easily the most violent of the crackdowns, in Oakland, California. Democratic Mayor Jean Quan oversaw the crackdown, despite both her legal counsel and deputy mayor resigning over it. In a press release she issued over the Occupy group in Oakland, she called upon the police chief for restraint. Within less than 12 hours, the police engaged in the bloodiest event at Occupy Oakland. And recent documents show that even the Department of Homeland Security had advised the police not to crackdown on the protesters.
When you start checking into the history of the Oakland Police Department, a dark picture appears. Oakland was the home of the infamous Riders case upon which several movies and TV shows drew inspiration, even being included as background characters in the award-winning Denzel Washington movie Training Day. The rogue cops operated in an environment at the Oakland Police Department that still has not been addressed over a decade after the indictments. After what has happened with the Occupy Movement, and how the police department handled peaceful protesters, the Department of Homeland Security is now accessing taking over the entire department with the goal of eliminating the corruption.
Then there is the Occupy Wall Street crackdown. Looking over the history of the NYPD, there is a clear history of police abuse and corruption rampant through the system. Despite efforts, the NYPD remains almost beyond reproach for its mishandling of cases, for its blatant disregard for probable cause, and of course for its complete disrespect for the First Amendment, with cases going back decades to demonstrate. But how can this be? Simple, because those in authority got there through coercion and use threats and intimidation to keep their hold of power. All of this happens with the blessings of Mayor Bloomberg who appears to feel that the ends justify the means.
As we expand to other cities, we find Des Moines, Iowa, University of California Davis, when we find police actions against Occupy, we also find a systemic history of police misconduct, brutality, and corruption to go with it. Des Moines, Iowa is even at the point that there are two law firms in the city that specialize in the handling of these cases. That is not a good thing for a city of less than 210,000 people.
But, when we go to cities without such systemic abuses, or ones which have been under intense scrutiny over past abuses and were actively handling the corruption in the ranks, a different story emerges. Take for instance the Ground Zero of the 1999 WTO conference, known commonly as the “Battle of Seattle.” As a result of the police misconduct, abuse and brutality in handling the protesters, heads rolled including the Police Chief, Norm Stamper and even the Mayor was out of office shortly after. While issues of misconduct do rise from time to time out of Seattle, it is no longer as rampant as reported before the event.
Many of the police who do get indicted or arrested for misconduct often display surprise at their convictions. In their eyes, they were the good guys. This has been decades in coming, partly due to our own popular culture and how we portray the police in the media. In the 1960′s, your typical “Cop Show” was Dragnet, which had police, forthright, honest, and most of all honorable police officers doing their duty with a minimum of fuss. The show ended with a focus on the court case, reminding people there was judicial overview and process at work, and that the police were but part of a larger system. But, flash forward ten years, the police officer people recognized is no longer Joe Friday, but Dirty Harry, a rogue officer who does anything to fulfill what he sees as justice, regardless of the courts or law. A decade after that, you have a Reality TV show, showing you real life police officers, titled simply COPS. To keep ratings up, it encourages police officers to deal with ever more incredibly borderline situations. It also completely eliminated the judicial follow-up, all people on the show were guilty in the court of public opinion despite what the tagline said.
What befell Occupy was decades worth of the ends justifying the means being applied to the police department. Instead of the friendly beat cop who knew every person in their neighborhood, you have the badge behind the wheel of his sedan looking to meet their quota for the month. And even more, now we have automatic ticket machines, even the barest of moderately non-violent of police interactions, the writing up of a moving vehicle ticket, has had the human element removed. We, as a society, have turned those who are sworn to protect us into renegade machines, obeying the image we expect of them. And even more disturbingly, we are training our children to expect to be prisoners in this new police state.
What happened to Occupy in the end is the only possible result of decades worth of de-humanizing the Police, as well as the Police de-humanizing those they are to protect. Otherwise how else can you find cases of sodomizing a suspect with a broom handle or someone somehow committing suicide in the back of a police cruiser with their hands handcuffed behind their backs? And it’s not just the local police either, with cases like Leonard Peltier showing that the ends justify the means seems all that matters with our police force.
Now, there are still good police forces, and good police officers. The majority I suspect remain as dedicated as Oak Creek Police Lt. Brian Murphy who likely saved countless people in Wisconsin earlier this month. It is up to those, who truly protect and to serve, as well as the honorable and decent people of the community, to step up and fight against the corruption in our system.
This is America. We are better than this.