Photo: Mark W. Clark
The Occupy Movement protests—the 99% vs. the 1% in Occupy terms—commenced last September in the Wall Street financial district and soon spread across the nation. Targeting Wall Street, banks, CEOs, and the federal reserve system, its signature tactic has been a willingness to forego "nine-to-five" picketing in favor of setting up camps on public land. And that has presented two major problems for law enforcement: crime within the camps and civil disobedience once the protesters are legally ordered to disperse.
Protestors have been victims of sexual assaults and batteries, often by fellow protestors. Within the shadows of one camp a man was murdered; others have been found dead in their tents, one as a result of carbon-monoxide poisoning. In Houston, a police officer shot and wounded a gunman who threatened Occupy Houston protesters.
Occupiers have also been hurting the very working people whose causes they are ostensibly trumpeting. Pedestrians on their way to work have been swept up in protesting crowds and arrested. Protests at ports have negatively impacted other innocent citizens, causing dock workers and truckers to miss work and pay. Refuse left in the wake of occupy camps, including trash and human waste, put constraints on public works and discouraged families from frequenting favorite parks and restaurants.
And once cities and citizens have had enough of the Occupy Movement, they have demanded that their local governments clear the camps. So there have been numerous clashes between Occupy protesters and law enforcement.
A Tale of Two Dozen Cities
Rich Roberts, public information officer for the International Union for Police Associations (IUPA), contends that there should be no basis for conflicts between police and the Occupy Movement. "Where demonstrations are orderly, police don't have to interfere," Roberts notes. "It's only when protestors become disorderly and disrupt the lives of other citizens that the police have a sworn duty to respond according to the general orders of their department."
Unfortunately, not all forms of protest have been in compliance with the law. The manner of dissent being exercised deviates substantially from the kinds of civil protest and acts of civil disobedience advocated by the likes of Gandhi, Thoreau, or Martin Luther King. The ensuing skirmishes between cops and protestors have resulted in injuries to each, as well as third parties, and mutual finger-pointing in their aftermath does little to enhance either's standing in the PR war.
What many cops say has complicated law enforcement's ability to keep the peace is the positions of their local governments, which seem to change with the political wind. Mayoral vacillations have seen protestors granted permission to set up camps, only to find it rescinded, then reinstated still later.
"You have these gutless, pandering politicians and gutless police administrators who are, in effect, politicians," asserts retired California Highway Patrol officer Dave Hollenbeck. "Rule number one for them is, 'Never offend anyone who can have an effect on your career.' To them, the next promotion is more important than any subordinate's or citizen's safety."
The Oakland Experience
Whatever the impetus for their actions or inactions, SWAT consultant and retired Cleveland SWAT sergeant Bob O'Brien says evidence of municipal meddling is never in short supply.
"Look at Oakland," O'Brien says. "They were extremely successful in dismantling the camp the first night. But the very next day the mayor allowed the protesters back in, and that same night all hell broke loose."