Thoughts on the Criminalization of Protest

10 Arrests in 83 Minutes: A Close Analysis of NYPD Crowd Dispersal Tactics from paul sullivan on Vimeo.

Even though Occupy Wall Street has disintegrated, its downward spiral was not purely self inflicted. Since day one, the protesters dealt with harassment, targeted arrests, and violence of a level that was shocking to Americans who had never experienced violence at the hands of the police before. Of course, to black and Latino Americans, it was preaching to the choir.

Even so, there is something disturbing not only about the violence and the arrests, but simply the way the police regard the protesters. You can see it in their sheer numbers: trouble is expected from the protesters. In other words, protesting is a criminal act, perhaps not in law but in practice. There is something wrong when the police outnumber the protesters by a large margin. It is not just a public safety matter but rather it is a show of strength.

That’s why when the police use criminal tactics to suppress protest, it is enthusiastically defended by public officials such as Bloomberg and, of course, Ray Kelly. This not only gives their tactics a stamp of approval, but also encourages more behavior. In essence, it becomes more profitable to pay off lawsuits then to admit to wrong-doing. There have been stories about Occupy protesters who waded through endless waiting in order to bring their cases before a judge, only to have them thrown because the prosecutors took too long. Outrageous to think that one has to seek justice as a defendant, and cannot even be faced by their accusers openly.This is becoming the standard norm for dealing with protesters across the country. Unfortunately, little will be done because most people don’t protest. However, an apathetic stance will only make the situation worse. Unfortunately, this lack of near-sightedness is going to cost our country tenfold.

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