Are Federal Officials Pushing a Nationwide Crackdown on the Occupy Wall Street Movement?
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That they justify crackdowns with exaggerated tales of protesters' perfidy – violence, and in the case of the occupations, health and safety violations – is not news at all. Police justified violent attacks on the civil rights movement by claiming that it was run by Communists. Protesters against the Vietnam War were demonized as treasonous freaks and accused of spitting on returning vets – a story that many who were involved in that movement say never happened.
And while recent raids have shared certain characteristics, their executions have varied. On Monday, Oakland officials leaked the exact time of the raid beforehand, and it was covered by a ton of media. New York officials had kept plans to raid Zuccotti Park a closely guarded secret and tried to block media coverage. Perhaps they got the same advice, but their planning was obviously different.
Ultimately, “coordination-gate” is reminiscent of one of the Right's silliest contrived psuedo-scandals: their dark ruminations about the “Journo-list.” In that one, a list-serv on which several dozen liberal academics and opinion writers – and maybe two to three “neutral” journalists who rarely participated – exchanged views, talked sports and made fun of conservatives. When it was then “unearthed” by Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller, this extremely typical email archive became a massive conspiracy to manipulate the news within the fever swamp of conservative blogs and talk radio.
Occupy Wall Street and its supporters have bigger fish to fry. Absent any suggestion that federal officials are in fact pressuring local governments to crack down on the Occupy movement, this story is simply a distraction.
But the recent spate of raids highlight some extremely troubling issues. In New York, police appear to have violated both state law and the First Amendment by denying credentialed journalists the ability to cover a major law enforcement action, and in several cases actually placed them under arrest. Reports of widespread use of excessive force against protesters have emerged in New York, Denver, Portland and Oakland, where the ACLU and National Lawyers guild are suing in an attempt to get the police department to follow its own crowd control guidelines. And while several years ago a federal district court in New York ruled that homeless activists camping on city streets were engaging in an "expressive political activity" guaranteed by the First Amendment, cities across the country are using local camping ordinances to step on occupiers' rights with little public controversy.
It is those issues, rather than a speculative narrative that doesn't conform to the facts on the ground, that should be the subject of our attention.
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America . Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.