Looking at the police response to the Occupy Wall Street movement, Bull Connor would be proud.
What went barely reported recently was that the United Nations has taken an interest in how the United States has dealt with the Occupy folks. Specifically, Frank LaRue, the UN special rapporteur for the protection of free expression, believes that the law enforcement crackdowns against Occupy protesters are a violation of their constitutional and human rights.
Meanwhile, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, noting the assault by police and arrest of journalists in some cities, urged authorities to protect journalists at these protests.
Why are the local authorities breaking up these peaceful protests — in which people are exercising their right to free speech — often through the use of violence, mass arrests, tear gas, smoke grenades, pepper spray, bean-bag rounds and brute force? And why are they beating and detaining reporters, or judges and city council members for that matter?
It all reminds me of Bull Connor, that infamous bull horn-toting, civil rights-era Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, also known as “Bombingham,” Alabama. Summoned from central casting, the dyed-in-the-wool white supremacist drew attention to himself when he sprayed water hoses and sicked dogs on peaceful public demonstrators, including children. Those water hoses tore the bark off trees.
And the press caught all of it on tape.
Connor made a fool of himself, and his actions and those of his henchmen were broadcasted before a national and international audience. It put the U.S. to shame, and placed the spotlight on the Jim Crow South in particular. The moral bankruptcy of segregation was evident in the heavy handed tactics employed by the Bull Connors of America.
Then there was the riot by the Chicago police at the 1968 Democratic Convention. And on May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard killed four and injured nine unarmed protesters at Kent State University who opposed Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia.
This nation, the land of the free, has always known what to do to keep people in line, especially in order to protect capital. Armed thugs, whether dressed in blue uniforms or not, were used by people in power for union busting and strike breaking. The 1 percent never could have succeeded without the complicity and active participation of some members of the 99 percent, including the cops who provide the muscle. Those working class police officers, who certainly will never become rich, should side with the very popular movements that would improve their own condition. After all, as is the case with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, union busting includes police unions, too.
The NYPD brass who walked around pepper spraying Occupy protesters, and the UC Davis police who summarily sprayed peaceful student demonstrators, behaved in the time-tested, repugnant tradition of Bull Connor. These days, the key issue is not Jim Crow segregation or the war in Vietnam. Rather, as Naomi Wolf poignantly noted in the Guardian, the Occupy agenda is getting money out of politics, reforming the banks, and stopping politicians from passing legislation affecting Delaware corporations in which they are investors. In other words, they want to cut American capitalism at the knees, eliminate the fraud on Wall Street, and drain the swamp of legalized corruption and bribery that is Washington. They want to get rid of the fundamental inequities of a system to which Americans have become far too accustomed. This is the best tradition of Martin Luther King’s “radical revolution of values,” what he envisioned as “the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society.”
Needless to say, there are those who will do what they must to prevent this from happening.
Cities throughout the nation appear to be acting in concert with an anti-Occupy Wall Street strategy. It is no coincidence that simultaneously, police forces throughout the country are violently disbanding Occupy tent cities. The Department of Homeland Security held conference calls with numerous city governments on how to crack down on the protesters. The writing is on the wall.
The police response to the Occupy Movement flies in the face of the reputed tenets of American constitutional democracy, and contravenes the precepts of international human rights law. But hey, this is America. And in America, capitalism trumps democracy. And we can’t allow capitalism to become a dirty word, now can we?