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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.

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Smarsch was misinformed, because no other official ever mentioned anything about a “suspicious package,” nor was any search of the park ordered.

I recalled first seeing Smarsch at an early-morning march on  Oct. 14, when he was unusually violent with demonstrators — even by NYPD standards — for no real discernible reason. He would not provide me (or several others who asked, including members of the National Lawyers Guild) with his name. I later retrieved it by other means. Smarsch is the  director of Manhattan South Borough.

During the Zuccotti Park eviction, the NYPD enforced a strict no-public-access policy in both the park and its surrounding area, ensuring reporters would be virtually prohibited from observing the raid. Press, credentialed or not, were repeatedly barred from proceeding past the newly formed police line. Journalists associated with the Associated Press, the New York Times, the New York Daily News and other outlets were arrested.

At one point that morning, I got stuck in a chaotic mass of people, and was nearly battered with a baton while attempting to record video. Some NYPD officers seemed to enjoy all this immensely, especially Police Officer Toussaint — one of the several who laughed as they pummeled everyone in their path. I saw one man get smashed in the face with a riot shield; another was knocked over the hood of a taxi.

When I asked one officer why it had suddenly become unlawful to stand on that portion of the sidewalk, she answered, “You’re blocking pedestrian traffic.”

Someone called out, “We are pedestrian traffic!” The officer responded, “So are we.”

The officer’s remark, of course, was senseless. Taken at face value, it would presumably mean that those of us being impeded from standing on this normally open sidewalk were ourselves responsible for the ensuing obstruction of pedestrian traffic. As if the hundreds of amassed riot cops or newly erected metal barricades had nothing to do with the blockage that she so dryly referenced.

It is not good that NYPD officers now live in a world where coherency of argument is no longer even an aspiration. Having spoken to over a hundred police officers throughout Occupy Wall Street, about 70 percent respond to queries by saying nothing at all, another 15 percent grunt or mutter something inaudible, 10 percent make some kind of dismissive remark, and the remaining 5 percent are willing to have a human conversation.

If this is the reality of police behavior at a political demonstration in downtown New York City, what has happened to the reality of policing? The NYPD, ostensibly tasked with maintaining public order, has proven that it cannot handle political dissent without exerting anything less than military-style force. For two months, it has continuously abridged the rights of citizens to peaceably assemble, and of journalists to document these assemblies. It has lost its claim to legitimacy.

 
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