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The NYPD's Bad Behavior Toward Occupy Wall Street Highlights Broken Criminal Justice System

Tough tactics and intolerance favor the rich and flout the rule of law.

 In early stages of Occupy Wall Street, I sometimes encountered people who harbored a legitimate concern: Wouldn’t prolonged media attention to altercations between police and demonstrators distract from the movement’s message?

This apprehension always struck me as misguided. What could be more central to Occupy’s guiding philosophy than the idea that the rule of law has been subverted by corporate interests? In collusion with government functionaries and beyond meaningful accountability from the public, these interests have created a separate realm of law for themselves — one that orients the financial and political systems in their favor, to the detriment of everyone else. If this is indeed true, and the law itself is marred by a systemic corruption, then law enforcement —  manifested physically in the form of police officers — is an  appropriate focus for a social movement seeking redress of grievances.

As Occupy Wall Street grew, the New York Police Department’s “crowd control” tactics became increasingly bizarre and aggressive: historic mass arrests, motor scooter attacks,  destruction of booksramming horses into demonstrators, putting New York Post reporters  in choke holds – to name only a few.  And following Tuesday’s brazen raid of Zuccotti Park, carried out in the dead of night, the NYPD indicated that de-escalation is not on the horizon. Quite the opposite, in fact. Police officials at the highest ranks, under the direction of Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, have taken to simply making up the rules as they go along.

In the same way that financial elites rig the political system, law enforcement elites like Bloomberg and Kelly have rigged the criminal justice system. Occupy Wall Street is hardly the only victim. The NYPD is on pace to make 700,000 extralegal “stop-and-frisks” this year alone, while its own officers skirt accountability for their misconduct. Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, who was sanctioned by NYPD Internal Affairs for pepper-spraying at least four demonstrators without provocation, received a maximum punishment of 10 lost vacation days on account of his actions.

If you’re an ordinary citizen, and you get caught on video dousing people with noxious gas like Bologna did, you get summarily locked up. And if you’re young and black, expect to receive the law’s full wrath. But when you’re an NYPD commanding officer responsible for all of Manhattan below 59th street, like Bologna was at the time of his attack, you get essentially a free pass.

Additionally, throughout my coverage of OWS, various police officials in plainclothes have refused to identify themselves upon request — violation of NYPD patrol guide procedure 203-09, effective June 27, 2003, which states that all “members of the service” are required to “courteously and clearly state [their] rank, name, shield number and command, or otherwise provide them, to anyone who_ requests [they] do so. [They also must] allow the person ample time to note this information.”

Among the men who violated this directive are Lt.  Daniel J. Albano, described in a 2009 court document as a “Lieutenant in the NYPD legal bureau and a high-level policy-making official for the NYPD.” When I asked Albano whether he was even  with the NYPD, he  replied, “I’m the plumber.”

Another is Sgt. Arthur Smarsch. On Tuesday morning, demonstrators were allowed back in post-powerwashed Zuccotti Park for a short time. Within what seemed like a half hour, officers began to force people out again. There was much confusion. Someone finally prodded Sgt. Arthur Smarsch to explain what was going on, and I heard him say that there was a “suspicious package” in the park. He then told an NBC4 reporter his last name upon request.

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