Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So, what's their game?

We've heard that mayors from eighteen cities were on a conference call about their local Occupations but they deny that they were discussing strategies even though police actions just happened to occur in different cities on the same nights.  We've also heard that police forces in various cities have been seeking advice and help from federal law enforcement but what they fess up to sounds relatively mild ("seek legal reasons to evict, avoid the press").  However, as Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism points out, the mere fact of coordination itself has serious consequences:  "National coordination vitiates the notion that policing is responsive to and accountable to the governed."

I somehow suspect they aren't telling us the whole story.  (No! Say it ain't so!)  I think that if you look at what is happening in the various cities, it's not only obvious that there is an overall strategy, but one can deduce what the strategy is from what they are doing...and it's anything but benign.

1. Fabricate or exaggerate safety concerns. Use them as justification for police action. This is what happened in Atlanta; we got a series of notices from the city claiming that people had put coat-hangers and bare wires into the power outlets and that our safety-rated heaters were fire hazards.  When someone showed up apparently carrying a rifle (at least one Occupy Atlanta participant says that he handled the gun and it was actually plastic), the cordon of police let that person walk on by...then used him as an excuse to come in and arrest fifty-two other people long after he left.  If the police stopped the individual to check his permit and see if the gun was loaded, then they had to know whether he was a threat and should have dealt with the situation accordingly.  If they didn't, they weren't doing their jobs.
This approach is evident in other cities as well; the justification for the recent eviction of Occupy Wall Street was a claim of "public health and safety concerns."   Which brings us to...

2.  Fabricate or exaggerate health concerns.  The non-outbreak of TB in Occupy Atlanta is a excellent example of this.  TB is actually relatively common among those without shelter (or, as one Occupy Atlanta person refers to homeless folks, "the recently foreclosed upon") because they often have compromised immune systems. It's quite rare in the rest of the population, but it's not surprising that a shelter for people who have nowhere else to go such as Task Force for the Homeless might sometimes wind up with cases.  However, there were none among the members of Occupy Atlanta, and our headquarters on the 4th floor was not even put on alert.  Reports of an "outbreak" at Occupy Atlanta are factually untrue on several levels, and irresponsible...especially since nobody called us to ask before running the story.
I suspect reports of "Zucotti lung" have similar origins.  A less histrionic way of describing it would be to say that people camping out in the wintertime in New York under stressful conditions are prone to catching cold. But if you put it that way, the New Yorkers would all be taking them chicken soup. "Zucotti lung" sounds exotic and awful and like something you want to stay away from.
This is mostly not being said directly by city officials; it's coming from the news media.  But Rocky, you don't mean to say that the media are in cahoots with the government?  Aren't they supposed to be the Fourth Estate?  Don't they have journalistic morals and stuff?
I think ethical journalism went out of fashion when Edward R. Murrow died, and lingered in the vicinity of Walter Cronkite until it went to the land beyond where dearly departed ideals frolic and moral courage is a term people use without snickering. I used to be less cynical about this...about six weeks ago, in fact.  Then I saw the difference between what really happens and how it is portrayed close up.  I've seen so many journalists distort reality in the past few weeks that I've gone past thinking they are just lazy or venal to thinking there is something more to it:

3.  Put pressure on the media to repeat what officials say uncritically and bolster the government's narrative.   Admittedly, most journalists don't need pressure put on them by local government; they get plenty from their corporate bosses whose interests are being served.  But access is information which is journalistic coin, and it is the leverage that all politicians use to exert control over how they are portrayed.  That's the carrot.  The stick is that journalists who don't play along are denied their traditional privileges and become subject to arrest and harassment.  In Atlanta none of the professional journalists have been arrested yet, because they are mostly dancing to the city's tune, but three student journalists were arrested on November 5 including an intern for a local weekly.  The message for all of the other journalists is clear:  This could be you.
Before someone accuses me of conspiracy mongering, I want to repeat that what I'm doing here is looking for patterns.  If something happens once, that's the local police department doing it.  If it's repeated over and over in different cities...I don't think it's a coincidence.  Especially since traditionally in this country journalists have protected status.  When was the last time a journalist was arrested in the United States?  They get arrested all the time in places like North Korea and Iran.  Not here. Until now.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Remember also that at least in the United States, the First Amendment is at the core of the Occupy movement.  If the police and local governments are willing to trample one part of the First Amendment, why would they balk at another?
4. Identify and isolate leaders in order to remove them. Exaggerate internal divisions and exploit them. Where they don't exist, create them.  This is COINTELPRO type stuff, and is a well-known tactic which Occupy groups have mostly resisted.  The city of Denver tried to make Occupy Denver choose a leader with whom the city could "negotiate" (this betrays either ignorance of how Occupy groups function or a deliberate attempt to subvert it).  Occupy Denver responded by electing a Border Collie mix named Shelby.  In Atlanta it has mostly been more subtle; there have been several attempts to isolate members of the group who are perceived to be leaders in closed-door meetings, which would tend to generate suspicion towards them within the group and also allow officials to play a "he said, she said" game with whatever story they wished to put forth. Some of the folks who do a lot in the group have been portrayed very negatively in the press and have been otherwise targeted...sometimes from within the group.  Not everyone who shows up has good intentions.  I had one overly enthusiastic woman sit down next to me while I was trying to work one day and quiz me about who the "leaders" in the group are.  "But you have to have leaders! Tell me who they are!"  I explained that no, we really don't.  According to Capt. Ray Lewis (Ret.) of the Philadephia Police Department, "Anybody who says that is a cop." We know for a fact that there are police infiltrators in the Occupy groups, both based on past history and because some of them have been outed.  
There are certainly internal tensions and disagreements in any large group of strong personalities, and some of them run deep.  But the organizational structure and decision-making process of Occupy groups is designed to resolve internal conflicts and create consensus; it's designed also to resist co-option which is counter to the goals of anyone trying to infiltrate. When external authorities use those disagreements to justify police action, or members of the group seek to subvert consensus and foster conflict rather than resolve it, both should be viewed with suspicion.  Mayor Quan's claim that the Oakland police's attack on Occupy Oakland was somehow prompted by the desire of members of the group to "separate" from anarchists is particularly ludicrous, since the heavy-handed, over-the-top approach the OPD used was pretty much guaranteed to bolster the anarchist position that the state is inherently violent and that if you resist coercion by the forces of the state it's only a matter of time before they escalate no matter how peaceful you are.  Thanks for the demonstration, Mayor Quan.
5. Portray Occupiers as violent whenever possible.  Attempt to incite violence.  If that doesn't work, simply claim violence.  You'd think that no sane person would employ this tactic, but it has happened in New York, Oakland, and Atlanta.  Whether or not protesters became violent in response...and in Atlanta they did not...the violence came from the police first.  This is the shadow of civil disobedience, and a cynical attempt to undermine it.  The moral authority of civil disobedience comes partially from the sight of peaceful, unarmed protesters being dragged away by police.  So if you can successfully incite even a handful of the protesters into reacting, or reframe their actions to make it appear as if they have, you can attempt to undercut that moral authority.  Mostly the tactic has backfired...but they keep trying.  All they need is one good riot, you know?
I believe that the police officer who drove his motorcycle into some protesters in Atlanta was trying to incite violence.  The reason I believe that is because it happened after the group had attempted to turn off of Peachtree St. in order to complete a circuit around the park; they were blocked by a group of police motorcycles and more or less herded back onto Peachtree, where they were faced with police on horseback and a SWAT team in riot gear.  The motorcycles circled around behind the main group of Occupy Atlanta people.  It was at that point that the police officer chose to drive his motorcycle through the crowd.
You can't tell me that a policeman whose real concern is public safety and keeping the peace can look at a mass of agitated people who are mostly facing the other way and think, "Hmm, this is a great time to try to drive through that."  Brandon, the person whom the motorcycle hit, was injured, both by the motorcycle and because the police beat him up when they arrested him.  In a display of Orwellian irony, he was charged with assault.  In the reality-based community, when you hit someone with a motor vehicle you are the one who gets charges.  But "Occupy Atlanta member assaults police officer" went all over the headlines.  Strangely, when the charge was dropped, that didn't receive as much press.

Any crimes that happen in the vicinity of an Occupation get attributed to the Occupiers...even when they are the victims. One of the consequences of living in a park is that it's public, which means anybody can and will show up.  Incidents that have happened at or near Occupations involving participants have gotten a lot of play in the press, but as this article points out, nobody asks the obvious question:  How do the number of incidents at Occupations compare to the general population?  Or, say, your average college campus? It's my feeling that, considering how stressful living outside under constant threat of arrest can be, the Occupations are actually astoundingly peaceful.  But I would like to see some real numbers on that. I can say from my experience with Occupy Atlanta that we recognize our responsibility to keep the peace and take it seriously...but I do not think we should be held to a higher standard than trained professionals whose salaries are paid by taxpayers.
There is in fact evidence that police are encouraging drunk and aggressive people to go to Occupations, and refusing to deal with problems even when asked.   The latter happened more than once in Atlanta, including when "AK-47 Guy" showed up and was within a few feet of former ambassador Andrew Young.  Occupy Atlanta people formed a human shield between the former ambassador and the man with the gun, after the police flatly refused to interfere.
There's a saying about never attributing to malice that which can be accounted for by stupidity, and I myself have often said that just because people with the same interests and goals behave similarly it doesn't necessarily mean they are in cahoots.  If it were just that all of the mayors and police departments of the different cities were doing the same things, it might just be that they were reacting to the same circumstances from the same mindset and copying one another in a form of police state mimesis.   But we know that they were in fact talking to one another.  I hate to be so darn suspicious, but when they say they weren't colluding I am disinclined to believe them.  There's one way they could clear all of this suspicion up, however.  That's by opening up records of that phone call.
Considering that members of Occupy Atlanta have had an Open Records request out to Mayor Kasim Reed's office and the Atlanta Police Department which they ignored well past the deadline and are now stalling, I'm not holding my breath.  I think it is in the public interest, however, that we know what was really said...and why they think it's so important to stop us. Who are they really answering to?

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