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What If They Sent in Social Services to Help Occupations Instead of Riot Cops to Bust Heads?

Cities are cutting back on vitally needed social services, while at the same time, buying expensive military gear for their police departments.

Occupations across the country have struggled to feed and shelter the least fortunate among us, and then faced often violent police crackdowns at great taxpayer expense. Pause for a moment and imagine what might result if mayors sent in social workers to help people rather than riot police to bust some heads?

In a society that tends to avert its gaze from the homeless, the hungry, the addicted and the mentally ill, the Occupy movement's compassion has become an albatross around its neck. “We don't exclude the people at the margins,” one protester at Occupy Oakland told me. “We invite them in and feed them.”

Around the country, occupations are struggling to provide a semblance of social services that cash-strapped cities are failing to provide. “We were a magnet for the angry poor, the homeless, the angry poor drunks,” a member of Occupy Philly told Salon. “And as the number of people here to absorb that part of it got smaller, it just became overwhelming.” Another activist added: “We see somebody sleeping, we throw a blanket over them...but there are people here who really need help.”

Kip Silverman, an organizer with Occupy Portland, told AlterNet that the majority of those at the recently evicted camp were “homeless or disenfranchised people. We have folks that have just recently lost jobs, lost their homes, and the Occupy encampment is all they have right now.”

Silverman added that the city might be contributing to the problem. “I have heard from three individual sources that some of the city institutions that help the homeless and disenfranchised are actually sending some people our way because we have services that we’re providing that apparently others cannot or will not,” he said.

With the influx of the homeless come various problems, and cities have used them to justify sometimes violent crackdowns on the occupations. In Oakland, a homeless man with a history of mental illness attacked several protesters in an incident that officials touted as being indicative of the “violence” surrounding the occupation.

In Burlington, Vermont, a homeless veteran killed himself in the camp, prompting city officials to cordon off the park where the occupation had been established. As USA Today noted, “authorities cited the potential hazard of police not being able to see what is occurring inside the tents as the reason for the tents' removal.”

Veterans' suicides are a national disgrace that we rarely talk about. A vet attempts to commit suicide once every 80 minutes, on average; 1,868 of them tried to end their lives in 2009 alone, and most of them, one presumes, weren't in tents.

An overdose at Occupy Vancouver, one of the 47,000 drug-related deaths each year in Canada, prompted that city to deliver an eviction notice.

Around the country, cities are  cutting back on vitally needed social services. At the same time, with the help of federal homeland security grants, they're spending money on high-tech military gear for their police departments.

As Stephen Graham, author of Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism , told Democracy Now! “there’s been a longstanding shift in North America and Europe towards paramilitarized policing, using helicopter-style systems, using infrared sensing, using really, really heavy militarized weaponry.”

That’s been longstanding, fueled by the war on drugs and other sort of explicit campaigns. But more recently, there’s been a big push since the end of the Cold War by the big defense and security and IT companies to sell things like video surveillance systems, things like geographic mapping systems, and even more recently, drone systems, that have been used in the assassination raids in Afghanistan and in Pakistan and elsewhere, as sort of a domestic policing technology. It’s basically a really big, booming market, particularly in a world where surveillance and security is being integrated into buildings, into cities, into transport systems, on the back of the war on terror.

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