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If It Bleeds, It Distracts: Police Brutality Threatens Occupiers’ Bodies – and Message

Demonstrators with the Occupy Oakland movement flee the area after police deployed tear gas near City Hall in Oakland, California on October 25, 2011. (Photo: Jim Wilson / The New York Times) It is not Occupy the Precinct; it is Occupy Wall Street. The protest is not about the police. It is about democracy. So says Nathan, 22, of New Jersey, who works security at Occupy Wall Street's media tent. “Our message is about inequality and corruption, not about demonizing working men and women.”

It is not Occupy the Precinct; it is Occupy Wall Street. The protest is not about the police. It is about democracy. So says Nathan, 22, of New Jersey, who works security at Occupy Wall Street's media tent. “Our message is about inequality and corruption, not about demonizing working men and women.”

“'Congress shall make no law … abridging .,. the right of the people peaceably to assemble … ,'” should be the end of the conversation, says Nathan.

“We have a First Amendment right to protect against this type of violence, and when we demand that it be respected, we are being deeply patriotic.” It struck a number of observers as a blatant violation of this principle when police in Oakland conducted a forceful raid on Occupy Oakland, an encampment set up in Oscar Grant Park, so renamed for a previous victim of police brutality.

According to AlterNet Senior Editor Joshua Holland, “What they're saying essentially is that it's illegal to protest overnight in the city of Oakland. Now, the courts have said that when you make restrictions on people's expressive activities, political activities, that has to be as narrowly tailored as possible to serve some legitimate government function.”

When the occupiers marched to protest their eviction, they were met with extreme violence, including round after round of tear gas and entire shotguns worth of coated bullets. The Daily Show and others have pointed out the absurdity inherent in responding to an alleged public safety threat with toxins and projectiles.

“The city was concerned about a public safety threat,” remarked host Jon Stewart. “So they did this. Seems a little heavy handed, unless … was one of the protesters Godzilla? That would justify an attack.”

Among those caught in the police riot were children and at least one wheelchair-bound woman. Scott Olsen, 24, an Iraq War veteran, remains on a respirator in critical condition in an Oakland hospital after police shot him in the face.

Perhaps it is the excitement of footage that resembles urban warfare which tempts so many reporters into pursuing the “protesters vs. police officers” narrative. However, the primary effect of highlighting it is to distract from the focus of the protest, says a 22-year-old protester from Boston calling herself “Mom”: “Not only does it detract from our anti-fraudulence message; every time we have to answer questions about it, it takes away from what we came here to do, which is protest against greedy, scheming corporations.”

Ostensibly, the United States is governed as a democracy. Americans' basic freedoms are reasonably well protected, as the free speech on display at this news source attests, and we have regular elections contested by candidates from different parties. But part of the focus of the Occupy movement is to throw a rock at that façade and reveal it to be a Potemkin democracy, behind which lurks a very different kind of political system in which the wealthy buy the candidates, extort them for power, write their legislation and block laws that don't suit their cash-grabbing mission – this is what plutocracy looks like. Struggling for the expansion of democracy is what connects Occupy Wall Street and its fellow encampments around the country to Tahrir Square and the Spanish acampanadas. (Egyptian revolutionaries and indignados see this connection, too.)

Soldiers like Olsen were sent abroad on a mission that was sold as an expansion to democracy: America would democratize Afghanistan and Iraq. Ten years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the country's capital is controlled by a US-backed corrupt crime syndicate and the rest of the country is subject to the whims of local warlords violently jockeying for supremacy. Iraq, from which we are soon to, reluctantly, extricate our troop force, is in every danger of descending into all-out civil war; its capital is in complete political gridlock. No meaningful democracy having emerged in these places, the primary upshot has been windfall profits, which America's taxpayers have lavished upon the mercenary armies and energy corporations acting on our behalf.

Olsen, when he escapes his unconscious state, will have to contend with the cognitive dissonance this country has presented him: fight a traumatic mission abroad in the name of a democracy that is not forthcoming, then return home, where police claim the right to exert extreme violence to prevent you from claiming your First Amendment rights, which are our primary guarantor of democracy. And, to top it all off, the same wealthy interests who profit from war (and therefore push for it) additionally profit from inequality (and therefore push for it) and commit massive amounts of fraud – with not so much as a summons to greet them, much less bullets and tear gas.

The ownership class obliterated the American economy and then insisted that the only way to revive it was by pushing austerity budgets that target not just social programs aimed at assisting the most vulnerable Americans, but also the jobs and pensions of public workers, including police. The police, however they treat the 99 percent, are part of the 99 percent, and an increasing number of them have begun to acknowledge that the Wall Street occupiers are struggling for them: The Albany Times Union reported that, “state troopers and Albany police held off making arrests of dozens of protesters near the Capitol over the weekend even as Albany's mayor, under pressure from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration, had urged his police chief to enforce a city curfew.”

The people in Liberty Plaza Park struggle because they have been denied the democracy promised to them, to Olsen, to children and to the police. Occupy Wall Street is not about the police. It is about democracy.

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