The one area in which New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has mimicked his predecessor Rudy Giuliani is his failure to control the New York City Police Department (NYPD). The early Tuesday morning ambush of sleeping Occupy Wall Street protesters was a shameful abuse of police power and a further example of the rogue nature of the NYPD. The unnecessary use of force should alarm anyone who professes to believe in the principles of peaceful assembly and free speech embedded in the United States Constitution. The clearance of Zuccotti Park, and other such assaults on Occupy Wall Street encampments across the country, is a clear signal of the degree to which the public needs to demand accountability from elected officials and law enforcement officers.
While the Occupy Wall Street movement might have inconvenienced some area residents and businesses, the protest was remarkably peaceful, restrained and disciplined. The protesters in Zuccotti Park were no threat to public safety. Mayor Bloomberg’s reasoning for ordering the police action is embarrassing and insulting. What’s more, his defense that the early morning raid was executed so as not to disturb residents in the area challenges his credibility. It is clear that the police moved in at a time when the protesters would be sleep and there would be few witnesses. It is why the media was kept at arm’s length as the NYPD assaulted the protesters, and not to protect journalists as the mayor would have us believe. This was a Ray Kelly special and it was done in a way to conceal the brutish behavior of the NYPD.
Even more disturbing is that after an initial court order that sided with the protesters right to encamp at Zuccotti Park, the mayor went judicial shopping and found a judge that would issue an order that on its face appears to support the protesters rights but in reality removes the teeth from the Occupy Wall Street movement. If there is any symbolic expression of the abuse of corporate power that should energize the Wall Street movement, it is the use of a public police force as a private militia to protect the interests of a gilded mayor and his lower Manhattan colleagues.
Hearing residents complain about the “noise” coming from Zuccotti Park reminds us that Americans want change to be convenient and gift-wrapped. While some in the area professed allegiance with the cause of the Occupy Wall Street movement, many of these residents also said they were tired of the protest. It seems today that if change does not occur overnight, those insisting on it must simply move on. We shudder to think what would have happened during the Boston Tea Party, the abolitionist movement, and the civil rights and anti-war movements if those demanding the nation honor its democratic principles had simply pulled up camp and moved on. If nothing else, the Occupy Wall Street movement sends the message that many Americans are willing to sacrifice for a larger cause; a refreshing change in an era in which the expediency of a text message defines our engagement.
It is our hope that the Occupy Wall Street movement regroups. It needs to identify a leadership core – any successful movement must have some sense of identifiable leaders – and it must determine how it will engage the political system to affect the change it so desperately demands. If Occupy Wall Street truly represents the 99%, it must now do the hard work of organizing and mobilizing the disenchanted, poor and middle class. The removal of the encampment at Zuccotti Park does not have to represent the end of the protest. In fact, it should signal a new beginning. The organizing skill and resources of the Occupy Wall Street movement must now turn its attention to the 2012 elections and truly policy reform. It’s time to occupy the ballot.