Why Are Police Attacking Peaceful Protesters? How OWS Has Exposed the Militarization of US Law Enforcement
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As the number of Occupy Wall Street arrests nears 1,000, instances of police brutality continue to pile up. Felix Rivera-Pitre was punched in the face in New York during a march through the city’s financial district; Ryan Hadar was dragged out of the street by his thumbs at Occupy San Francisco; and at Occupy Boston, members of Veterans for Peace were shoved to the ground and dragged away for chanting and peacefully occupying a local park.
These efforts to intimidate the protesters are symptoms of three decades of policies that have militarized civilian law enforcement. Sgt. Shamar Thomas, a U.S. marine at the Occupy Wall Street protests, was so appalled by the behavior of the NYPD that he loudly confronted a group of 30 officers, shouting at them:
"This is not a war zone. These are unarmed people. It does not make you tough to hurt these people. If you want to go fight, go to Iraq or Afghanistan. Stop hurting these people, man, why y’all doing this to our people? Why are y’all gearing up like this is war? There are no bullets flying out here."
Police repression in America is hardly new. Low-income neighborhoods, communities of color and political activists have always had to deal with unneccassary shows of force by some police officers. Thanks to a populist uprising threatening a status quo that benefits the top tier of American society to the detriment of the bottom 99 percent, many Americans for the first time are witnessing the U.S. police state in action.
As Occupation Spreads, So Does the Police State
A clear pattern has emerged in the response to occupations throughout the country, from San Francisco to Denver, involving midnight raids by heavily armed paramilitary units of riot police deployed to enforce park curfews.
Protesters at Occupy San Francisco are familiar with the routine. They have endured multiple late-night police raids on their encampment in Justin Herman Plaza, the most brutal of which took place Sunday, Oct. 16. Minutes before midnight and with the approval of Mayor Ed Lee (who is currently running for reelection and claims to be supportive of the movement's overall message), 70 police officers decked out in full riot gear marched into the encampment to enforce a 10pm curfew. They dismantled tents, tarps, the medical station and the kitchen, along with some personal belongings, all of which were loaded onto Department of Public Works trucks.
Some 200 protesters resisted peacefully, locking arms to prevent the police invasion, which was met with a frighteningly violent response. According to the San Francisco Bay Guardian, one protester received a lengthy beat-down for duct-taping his body to a pole inside the camp. The police allegedly "ripped him off the pole, threw him to the ground and struck him in the head and ribs. When he left by ambulance a few hours later, he appeared to be convulsing or seizing," reported the Bay G uardian.
Protesters using their bodies to block the DPW trucks from leaving were dragged out of the street, some by their fingers and thumbs. Those who locked arms to form a human chain were pulled apart and thrown onto the sidewalk.
Ryan Hadar, 19, described his experience to the Guardian: “They bent back my thumbs, trying to pry me away from the people I was locking arms with. When I asked if they were trying to break my thumbs [one officer] replied, ‘Only if I have to.’ Then they dragged me to the sidewalk by my index finger. I asked if they were trying to break my finger, and this time they replied, ‘Yes.’"