Criminalizing OWS Protesters

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By Stephen Lendman

Oakland – closed encampment. Photo courtesy of Politicology

On November 14, the Northern California ACLU and National Lawyers Guild (NLG) sued the Oakland Police Department (OPD) in federal court for “egregious constitutional violations” against Occupy Oakland protesters.

A temporary restraining order was sought to stop them. On November 14, hundreds of riot gear clad police forcefully evicted encamped Oscar Grant Plaza protesters at 5:00AM. At a same day press conference, Mayor Jean Quan said:

“We have to bring the camp to an end.”

The ACLU-NC and NLG sued OPD on behalf of videographer Timothy Scott Campbell. Other plaintiffs include Kerie Campbell, Marc McKinnie, Michael Siegel, and NLG Legal Observer Marcus Kryshka.

On November 2, all faced excessive force. Campbell said:

“I was filming police activity at Occupy Oakland because police should be accountable. Now I’m worried about my safety from police violence and about retaliation because I’ve been outspoken.”

According to NLG attorney Rachel Lederman:

“OPD’s unconstitutional actions against protesters were wholesale and flagrant violations of Oakland’s Crowd Control Policy.”

It strictly limits force and prohibits indiscriminate use of shot-filled beanbags and other projectiles against peaceful protesters and crowds.

In fact, authorities nationally want OWS demonstrations ended. On November 15, Occupy Wall Street.org countered, saying:

“You cannot evict an idea whose time has come. We are the 99%. We are everywhere. We are a global movement that is reclaiming our humanity and our future.”

America’s First Amendment affirms everyone’s free expression and assembly rights. Fourth Amendment freedom prohibits unnecessary excessive force.

No matter. On November 14, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg used goon squad cops to evict protesters. Hundreds earlier were beaten, pepper-sprayed, maced, tear gassed and arrested.

Days earlier, police attacked nearby Berkeley, CA Occupy Cal protesters. Students and youths were beaten, one seriously. About 40 were arrested. Similar crackdowns are happening nationally. Thousands have been arrested.

On October 26, Oakland, CA police attacked nonviolent protesters with tear gas, flash grenades, beanbag shotguns, and rubber bullets. Officers also threatened use of unspecified “chemical agents.”

Veterans Against War member Scott Olsen sustained a serious skull fracture when struck on the head by a tear gas canister. Children, elderly and disabled bystanders were affected. Police helicopters patrolled overhead.

America’s violence roots are deep. Wars are glorified in the name of peace. Pacifism is considered sissy and unpatriotic. Among Western nations, its homicide rate is highest. Gun owning is considered an inalienable right.

Violent films, video games and sports are some of its most popular. With good reason, its society is called a “rape culture.” Constitutionally guaranteed human rights, civil liberties, common dignity and personal safety are more illusion than fact.

“Indispensable state” credentials, exceptionalism, and moral superiority are manipulated false notions to force our ways on others globally.

Kids are weaned on violence. Television and films feature it. Before age 18, the average child watches 200,000 violent acts, including 16,000 murders. Moreover, studies show homicide rates doubled 10 – 15 years after television was introduced. What better way to teach how to kill, beat, brawl and abuse.

Some kids grow up to be cops. From pre-adolescence they’ve been conditioned to accept violence as normal. They’re used to it when asked to quash dissent.

Americans’ Free Expression Right to Dissent

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) advances and protects constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. It creatively uses law “as a positive force for social change.”

In October 2011, it issued a report titled, “Restore. Protect. Expand: The Right to Dissent,” saying:

“US history is littered with repressive laws “at the expense of constitutional protections and civil liberties.” The 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts restricted First Amendment freedoms.

So did 1919 anti-communist Palmer raids, the 1934 Special Committee on Un-American Activities, its House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) successor, secret FBI COINTELPRO crackdowns, the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the 2001 USA Patriot Act, and other post-9/11 measures.

These and other police state measures expanded government surveillance, eroded habeas rights, formalized military tribunals, permitted torture-extracted confessions, and sanctified violence in the name of national security.

As a result, nonviolent civil disobedience can be called terrorism. Patriot Act provisions criminalized dissent. Innocent people have been arrested, indicted and imprisoned for pursuing their constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Using so-called “terrorist profiles,” the FBI can investigate anyone for any reason. So can local police working cooperatively with them or alone.

Abrogating constitutional rights entirely may come next. Occupying America against financial terrorism and corporate greed can be criminalized. America’s right to dissent is endangered.

Attacks on Nonviolent Protests

In 1999, attacking Seattle global justice protesters was a harbinger of things to come. Tens of thousands rallied for environmental, worker and other rights. Police did what they do best.

Tear gas and pepper spray saturated city streets. Hundreds of riot gear clad cops fired bean bag bullets, rubber bullets and paint balls at peaceful demonstrators. Others were beaten with batons and pepper sprayed. Hundreds were arrested. A state of emergency and curfew were imposed. Parts of Seattle looked like war zones.

In 2003, similar violence targeted Miami nonviolent protests against the Free Trade Act of the Americas (FTAA). Thousands of militarized police filled city streets. More than 40 law enforcement agencies were involved.

Streets were cleared lawlessly. Hundreds were arrested, including journalists and legal observers. Red squad police surveillance and infiltration were used. Congress provided funding.

CCR and others filed lawsuits. In Killmon v. City of Miami-Dade, et al a major settlement was reached. Nonetheless, the “Miami Model” and its Seattle predecessor became prototypes for future crackdowns like those ongoing now.

In today’s America, anything can be criminalized, including protests for environmental and animal rights. CCR called the 2006 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (ACTA) “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments.” It criminalized legal politically motivated actions.

“Green Scare” entered the vocabulary earlier. First used in 2002, it referred to legal and extralegal government actions against animal liberation and environmental activists.

The ghost of COINTELPRO returned, including intensive surveillance of political activists, false arrests, and police brutality. What the 1974 Senate Church Committee condemned, Patriot Act and other legislative measures restored.

In 2009, police cracked down hard against Pittsburgh G20 protesters. For two days, the city was on lockdown. Dozens of University of Pittsburgh students were arrested. Police used batons, pepper spray, beanbags, OC gas (similar to tear gas), sound cannons, and rubber bullets.

Ahead of the meeting, thousands of police and National Guard troops were marshaled. Requested permits were denied. Similar measures are employed against IMF and World Bank protesters, others for global justice, some against war, and when Republican and Democrat political conventions are held.

Each time, constitutional rights are denied. Police violence and other repressive measures are used. OWS demonstrators are now targeted and treated like criminals.

On November 13, Portland protesters were evicted. Despite supportive thousands on downtown streets, camp sites in two parks were forcefully cleared. In Salt Lake City, police used bulldozers against protesters. In Berkeley, police used truncheons against peaceful students trying to set up a camp.

Nationwide, thousands of arrests were made. Numbers mount daily. Tent cities are being cleared. Reasons used are bogus. Alleged health and safety issues are raised. So is talk about enforcing local ordinances.

At issue is police state thuggishness, beating up on people for Wall Street and other corporate favorites. Constitutional freedoms are denied. Popular protests globally are targeted.

“Total policing” met London students protesting tripled tuition fees and abolishing the weekly 30 pound low-income family allowance. Entire areas were blocked off. The city was on lockdown.

Section 60 of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act “gives police the right to search people in a defined area at a specific time (and) provides powers to require the removal of disguises at public order events.”

Protesters trying to set up camp at St. Paul’s Cathedral and Finsbury Square were arrested and dispersed. Erected digital screens told people they broke Section 12 of the 1986 Public Order Act. Some demonstrators were constrained, others attacked.

None of it’s justified. In America and across Europe, constitutional provisions, criminal and international law provide effective tools against lawbreakers and potential threats. Why abuse the law when what’s on the books works fine. However, nothing there warrants police crackdowns against lawful protests.

Millions across America, Europe, and the Middle East are fed up and want change. At issue is social injustice, political corruption, banker occupation (aka financial terrorism), and repressive blowback against popular opposition to austerity, inequality, and growing human need.

Feigning support, Obama and congressional allies sold out constituents for Wall Street and other monied interests. Unemployment, poverty, lost homes, and other social injustice issues drive protesters for change. Sustained struggle is the only way forward.

No matter what obstacles they face, there’s no turning back now. There better not be to have any chance of succeeding.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

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