The Police Are Part of the 99%
From the beginning Occupy Washington, DC has treated police with respect. We know they and their families suffer the same problems as the 99%. Their finances are not secure, their health care and pensions are under attack, paying for their child's education is a challenge; all the stresses Americans face, they face.
We had heated debates about this issue as some people involved felt the police, while part of the 99% do the work of the 1% and some have had bad, abusive experiences with police that make treating them civilly very difficult. This is all understandable and carries a lot of truth, but in the end the dominant view of our group was police are not the enemy.
Treating police with civility has carried forth in all our interactions with them thus far. We know we will not bring them to the difficult decision to disobey an order to evict, arrest and even abuse us by treating them as the enemy. We know that by treating them with decency, they are more likely to do the same to us. And, we know that if we can make it clear that the new world we are fighting for will make their jobs easier, make their economic lives better and present greater hope and opportunity for their children and grandchildren that they may join us.
Even when some police (always a minority, by the way) abuse their power with pepper spray, physical abuse and in other ways, we seek to remain in disciplined non-violence. Police who abuse non-violent civilians undermine the authority of the police and of the state, while protesters who remain non-violent gain sympathy and respect from the public.
I have no doubt that many police already support what we are doing. I've seen some sneak donations into our donation can; others have asked what they can do for us. See http://www.
As Occupy camps from coast to coast face evictions — and in many cases have already been pushed out of parks and plazas like so much human trash — it's clear that the institutional response to the movement is escalating dangerously. Likewise, relations between police and activists seem to be deteriorating, as non-violent protesters continue to be arrested almost daily.
But as tensions build between Occupiers and Big Brother, what's also true is that individual officers are increasingly concerned about their role in combating Occupy. Even in cities where the overall police response has been barbaric, there's a growing sense that cops who've been charged with breaking camps are unnerved by such orders.
Earlier this week, Los Angeles authorities avoided a riot by working with protesters, and even thanking them publicly for demonstrating their right to free speech. On a smaller scale, last month in Oregon an officer was seen sobbing in his combat gear while raiding a Portland encampment. In October, Albany police — along with state troopers — refused to arrest protesters despite pressure from the city's mayor and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
At least one Occupier believes that such sentiments are not anomalous. Calling himself Danny — he wouldn't reveal his true identity — he created a movement-within-a-movement, Occupy Police (OcPo), designed to be an outlet for officers of all ranks, everywhere, to speak openly about Occupy.
"We think solidarity with police is needed," says Danny in the only interview he's granted to date. As he launches Operation SHIELD — an OcPo initiative calling for civilians, ex-police, and ex-military to physically step in between protesters and cops in the event of future confrontations — Danny's goal is to bridge this most glaring divide among so-called 99 percenters. He continues: "There are a lot of active cops right now who can't speak, can't get involved, and have no place in this protest . . . but they sympathize with the direction of the movement and its political standpoints — that the system is screwed up, and that this is about bad government. They also believe that it's not good for this to turn into a street war between police and protesters."
UNHAPPY OFF THE RECORD
Danny started OcPo in mid-October, after a series of intense talks with buddies on the Boston force about the eviction of Occupiers from the Rose Kennedy Greenway on Columbus Day. "My friends who are cops did not like what happened," he says. "They have to do their job — and they can't act out about it openly — but they're unhappy off the record with what's going on, and they're not happy with having to arrest non-violent protesters."
By early November, Ocpo had thousands of connections on Facebook and Twitter, and what Danny described as an outpouring of moral support and gratitude from police. While any cop who supports OcPo understandably can't say so in public (or to the Phoenix), the platform has allowed at least one officer to express himself. Fred Shavies of Oakland PD was accused by activists of attempting to covertly infiltrate the Occupy in his city. "I totally agree with Occupy Wall Street," Shavies says in a video on the OcPo Web site. "I identify with the 99 percent, but I also have a job to do."
Danny says OcPo's mission is to give men and women like Shavies "a place to speak, and to create peace and solidarity between the two groups so they can combine and make real political change." For proof that those ideas have gained traction, he points to one of the Occupy movement's defining moments: the November 17 arrest of former Philadelphia police captain Ray Lewis. Retired for eight years and living in the Catskills, on November 14 — after weeks of reading about people who were standing up to corporate entities that he too deplores — Lewis became inspired to join forces with OWS protesters.
The arrest of Lewis, on the two-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, hit the press like a billy club. Though more than 300 were bagged by NYPD on the same day, the images of him being cuffed in full police uniform — and news of his being subsequently slapped with charges including disorderly conduct — put Lewis front and center. With the world watching, he showed compassion for fellow men and women of the law. "Corporate America is using police departments as hired thugs," Lewis told MSNBC. "I was trying to portray the message that they should not become mercenaries — not that they already were. . . . Cops are just as human as everyone else."
'A HUGE STATEMENT'
With more and more examples of police benevolence to counter the tragedies that have unfolded in their clashes with Occupiers, Danny's latest push is to bring OcPo off the Web and onto the front lines. With Operation SHIELD, he's collaborating with the similarly themed Occupy Marine Corps (OMC) to recruit "an organized and very transparent group of men and -women who will have the guts to step up in between the protesters and the police and create a gridlock." Logistics are still being drawn up, but Danny believes that his growing networks can support such interrupter actions.
According to Todd Gitlin, an author, Columbia professor, and veteran activist who has closely watched social movements — including Occupy Wall Street — over the past several decades, Operation SHIELD is a historically unique concept. But while "police were the hardest nut to crack in the late '60s and '70s," Gitlin says the impact of servicemen and women speaking out against wars has always been powerful. "Whenever somebody acts out of the character imputed to them, it's a huge statement," he says. "What it did for the morale of the [anti-war] movement was assure people that they were not wholly isolated, and that theirs is not just a matter of piety or moral righteousness — that it was a reasonable position that reasonable people could sign up for."
Recent examples all across the country have so far proven that such phenomena endure. When police raided Occupy Boston, the prevalent emerging image was that of a member of the group Veterans for Peace being arrested while his American flag was trampled. In Oakland, outrage ensued following reports that Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was assaulted with a can of tear gas. In building Operation SHIELD, Danny has connected with all of these emblematic entities, including Marine Corps Sergeant Shamar Thomas. A hulking presence, Thomas, who has been deployed to Iraq more than a dozen times, famously blocked NYPD from arresting protesters during a march into Times Square on October 15. In the moment, Shamar expressed what could be considered the rallying sentiment behind OcPo and Operation SHIELD.
"It is not honorable to attack unarmed civilians who carry no weapons, who have no intent or ability to harm you," the veteran told more than 30 police officers — and subsequently the whole world, as video of his declaration went viral hours later. "It is not honorable to suppress the right to freedom of speech and freedom of association. You carry your badges and your guns and your authority because you are charged with protecting the innocent. We are the innocent. You are working for the criminals."
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