Archive for November, 2011

Torture, Police Brutality, and Dehumanization

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

OWS is forcing the New York City administration to show itself in its true colors: the servants and protectors of the corporate empire that has brought the people of this country and the world to economic distress and increasing loss of freedom, rights, and dignity.  The NYPD leads signally, but the police of other cities compete well.

Though my focus both professionally and personally has been on the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has changed the discourse in this country, has impacted my life as well.  I find myself on the streets with the occupiers and others to address the economic and social issues that are behind all the US depredations, including torture, within this country and abroad.

Since OWS calls attention to the complete failure and illegitimacy of the current social-political-economic system in the US, the occupiers are not focusing specifically on the wars and torture; but, with their skillful use of independent media including a twenty-four hour online broadcasting network, they are showing the world the brutality of militarized police state repression in the US.  The same things that led to US torture of prisoners of war obtain in torture of prisoners in the US and in the militarization and brutality of police here now.

Below is a film still of deputy inspector Johnny Cardona punching a protestor in the face and another photograph.

NYPD Officer Johnny Cardona  strikes protester in the face; video here


Though NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly, implies that Mr. Rivera-Pitre was at fault, this report says it appears Cardona punched Rivera-Pitre in the face in response to a “look,” and to his protesting with others.

For quite some time, it has been risky to “look” askance at a police officer or to join with others in protest.  A review of entries on this blog alone, especially during the Republican national convention in 2008, for instance,  will give ample evidence of what police here and in other cities have been doing to peaceful protesters regularly.

Philadelphia  Police Captain (ret) Ray Lewis

On Liberty Square yesterday, I met the retired Police Captain Ray Lewis from Philadelphia  who joined OWS, was arrested last Thursday, and stays with the Occupation, continuing to support them and engage in civil disobedience.  He spent time with me, encouraging me to continue to suggest to police officers that they join us on our side of the barriers where they really belong.  But as people gathered around us, he began talking about how to deal with the police–standing up and walking away as opposed to “going limp” when arrested, for instance.  He said it makes the police work much harder when they have to carry someone away, causing resentment among them.  He said that police do not mind civil disobedience itself, but they do mind protesters making their work hard.

I see his point of view, but some may prefer making a statement.   The job of protesters is not to facilitate the work of the police.

How is all this related to the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and in Bagram and the Black Sites and of US prisoners in jails and prisons…?  A huge effort especially since September 11, 2001, by US leaders of government and media serving the corporate empire has created the idea of “enemies” who are not like “us,” not entitled to the rights of human beings like us, in short not human.  They use skillful propaganda that makes the Nazi sort look crude; and they attach it to notions of public safety and supposed threats.  The corporate media have fed this diet of lies continuously to the US public for a decade in the context of media blackout about what is really happening.

Finally, with the advent of Occupy Wall Street, there are more people willing to challenge it.  Fortunately, too, OWS is endowed with its own skillful users of media who are able to get truth out to the world.  When we were handfuls of people on Foley Square crying out against torture and war, we were negligible.  We were watched, of course, and herded behind barriers, but I never saw a beating.  Police brutality was mostly reserved for young people of color and “Muslims” in targeted neighborhoods.  Now, there are many people challenging the whole system in public squares all over the country, and via media of all kinds.  They not only chant “the whole world is watching,” they are making certain that it is.

Statements by officials reveal what the “government” is doing about Constitutional rights.  Obama, a Harvard educated lawyer, said publicly that Bradley Manning, accused of leaking information to Wikileaks, “broke the law.”  That was about a year ago and Manning has not yet been tried.  He should be presumed innocent.  Worse, Obama issues orders to kill people anywhere in the world without any form of legal process.  Raymond Kelly says that it is okay for one of his officers to hit a person in the face if he looks at an officer and is part of a protest.

The treatment of Guantanamo prisoners was not televised, so few of us know about their dehumanization. But those prisoners have been deprived of any semblance of their rights under US and international law, are presumed guilty, and are tortured and continue to be deprived of their freedom.  Anyone that the servants of the corporate empire (police, military, government officials) find dispensable is now without rights. We are all not human when they decide we are not.  It is chilling that most of the people in Guantanamo, those already released and those still held, are entirely innocent of any violence against the US or anyone.  These men have been tortured because the US government officials said they should be.

Do not be deceived; the same things that drive US torture drive the police brutality.  None of us is safe, we must all resist.

Stop and Frisk: Whose Side Are You On?

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

As we were gathering on the corner of Jamaica Avenue and 153rd Street next to a lovely park, the police were right on top of us, standing actually in 153rd Street.  Police vans were on the opposite side of Jamaica Avenue and officers stood on three  of the four corners of the intersection.  One of us, a member of OWS with a lot of recent experience in protest, remarked to me on the arrival of a particular “white shirt,” the notorious one caught on film punching one of the peaceful OWS protesters in the face.

I had brought my zills (finger cymbals) and a pair of claves.  I played the former and the guy from OWS the latter as we sang “Whose side are you on? Whose side are you on?”  I danced about as we did.  Two women about my age had brought tambourines and supported us.

Sometimes I looked directly into the eyes of the police officers close to us as I sang “Whose side are you on?”

We were all on the side of the Black and Latino youth who are are stopped and frisked, overwhelmingly for no reason at all, in the illegal, unconstitutional, and illegitimate NYPD policy of Stop and Frisk.  Young boys going home from school in certain neighborhoods like this one are famously targeted for violent groping and humiliation by the police.  Last year there were 600,000 incidents of this assault, more than one a minute every day of the year.  This year, the target is 700,000.  Here is a link to a site about the numbers.


Carl Dix

After we were assembled and those who had chosen to participate in the peaceful civil disobedience at the nearby police precinct had been advised by the legal team from the National Lawyers Guild, Carl Dix the founder with Professor Cornel West of the STOP Stop and Frisk movement, addressed us.

A veteran of racist police policies and a person who chose prison over fighting the Viet Nam war, Carl Dix is a giant in the movement and in the struggle to build a better world.  He reminded us of why we were there, not just to protest but to stop this policy.  He introduced other people who were leading this action: college students who are working to stop this and to overturn all the policies of criminalizing black and brown people that has led to the mass incarceration in the US which has the largest prison population in the world by magnitudes; a young man who had refused to be frisked, a leader of the Occupy the Hood from that neighborhood, and women from the community whose sons and grandsons have been victimized by stop and frisk.  The latter spoke movingly of what this egregious policy has done to them, their families, the youth, and the entire community.

Carl then told us how we would march to the precinct, making stops along the route to let people in the community know what we were doing.  He asked those of us who knew the chants that were now becoming traditional in this movement to lead us as we went.  He also asked that those who were going to do the peaceful civil disobedience lead the march.

Carl Dix, Students, Members of the Community who were committed to peaceful civil disobedience, joined arms and led the march.

To the cries of “Stop and Frisk is the new Jim Crow, Stop and Frisk has got to go” and “Stop and Frisk don’t stop the crime, Stop and Frisk IS the crime,” and “We won’t stop till we STOP stop and frisk,” we headed out to the 103rd Precinct, snaking through the community to let them know we were there in solidarity with them.  Carl stopped several times along the way to address the crowds of people running Saturday errands and some of us distributed flyers.  Carl always said we were there to STOP this policy.

This area was where Sean Bell was murdered and his two friends grievously injured in a hail of 50 police bullets in 2006 at this time of year on the day before his wedding.  Though community outrage did provoke indictments against the officers involved, they were not convicted in spite of a completely muddled story and no evidence that the three men or indeed anyone but the police had weapons, much less fired any, which, of course, had been the pretext for the massive and fatal firing by the police.  Another chant was “We are all Sean Bell, NYPD go to hell.”

The 103rd precinct when we finally got there, our ranks swelling slightly as people actually joined us in our march through the busy commercial area, was barricaded off.

The whole thing had felt tense to me with our police escort all the way and the siege-like atmosphere of the precinct heightened my sense of tension and menace.

This was the third of these actions, and one of a huge number of peaceful protests in New York in the past months where the protesters have not so much as turned over a trash can.  We actually picked up any litter we dropped along the route, schooled as we all are now by the OWS.  This over-reaction to people assembling and chanting is revealing of how defensive the authorities are, and, of course with reason.  This police policy is illegal and unconstitutional and is only in place because the rule of law and the Constitution no longer obtain in the New York City and in the US.

After more remarks by people affected by Stop and Fisk and some statements about the value of peaceful civil disobedience as a tool in bringing about change, those who had committed to doing so walked in groups, arms linked together, through the barriers and up the steps of the precinct where they continued to chant as they were arrested and taken off.

Arms linked, they head for the precinct door

Then began the arduous work of trying to find out where they were and to get the legal team there as well as friends, family, and protesters to support them.

It is now afternoon on Sunday and these valiant and selfless activists are still held in jail.  They have been assigned to Central Booking which means possible serious charges and maybe bail requirements.  Several of these protesters, beginning with Carl Dix, have been arrested at all of the protests and are now “repeat offenders.”

I consider myself very privileged to be on their side and on the side of the young men whose lives are impacted so horribly by being stopped and roughed up by the police for absolutely no reason.

We won’t stop till we STOP stop and frisk.

Whose side are you on?  Let your actions speak on that subject. Below is a link to a site about the STOP Stop and Frisk  where you can find out what you can do to help.

Stop Mass Incarceration is here.

Occupy, shut it down!

Friday, November 18th, 2011

On the Brooklyn Bridge, November 17, 2011

I loved the Rude Mechanicals song:

Occupy, shut it down;
New York is the people’s town.

Whose side are you on?
Whose side are you on?

What OWS is Doing

Friday, November 18th, 2011

This is from a statement by members of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York:

“Pundits who argue for channeling Occupy Wall Street into party politics miss the point entirely. By focusing America’s attention on the dramatic polarization of wealth and by creating a new political identity — “the 99%” — we are already impacting politics in ways the Tea Party could only dream of.

“The power of our movement is that it is changing the very coordinates of how people think about politics; it is changing the political imagination. We therefore cannot accept the mandate to return to the way things were, to use get-out-the-vote drives and political action committees as our only means of making change.”

OWS on the Brooklyn Bridge Nov. 17, 2011

Read the full article by Caitlin MacLaren and Zoltán Glück  who are organizers with the New York City Student Assembly, a group affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Dancing For Joy on Foley Square

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

When I was coming up from the subway, before I could see the street, I heard them: the music leading them forward and the voices.  As soon as I got off onto Canal Street, I could see a mass of the people who were marching from Union Square to join with those already on Foley Square.  The head of the large march had already turned onto Lafayette Street before I could get there.  The police on motor scooters and on foot were beside themselves trying to get the marchers out of the street, but when there are that many, it is not possible.

I was on the sidewalk and turned down on Lafayette, the police just left me alone.  They diverted the march to one of the cross streets a few blocks below Canal and had them march toward the east side of Foley Square.  I just kept on down Lafayette.  A 65 year old white woman, even with a No Torture button, is not profiled as dangerous.  They just let me go on down to the Square.  Had I been Muslim or Black, I would have been herded and perhaps stopped.  Shameful.

When I got to the Square the contingent was already beginning to meld into the group on Foley Square, which was barricaded off. Why are we always penned up?  More about that later.

The Rude Mechanicals Orchestra

I headed for the music and enjoyed the Rude Mechanicals Orchestra. All the people around me were singing with them.  I especially loved turning around to the police for the chorus which included “Whose side are you on?”  People I knew filed by and the long, long line of the marchers I had seen on Canal Street continued to crowd in.

A beautiful young woman with tightly braided hair stood next to me and we talked.  She had had the misfortune of being evicted and told me that story–which included some cruelty on the part of the law enforcement personnel, as well as the banks.   She and I heard the drum circle somewhere after the Mechanicals had left our area, so we went in search of it.  Though she ultimately left, I stayed with them for the rest of my time there.  A number of us danced and danced and danced.  I texted George, who is out of town, that I was, as he had said when we were on Times Square, “dancing to the music of freedom.”

Finally, the bathroom situation that I encounter at OWS events became an issue.  Some commentator on OWS had remarked this week that other countries provide public toilets everywhere.  I have personal knowledge of that from living in Europe and South America.  I remember a hilarious conversation with some of my International Ballroom Dance competitor friends from years ago about public toilets.  From countries of the former Soviet Union, they were appalled that there are no public toilets in the US.  The police who are on duty at Liberty Square are given free use of the toilets in the Brookfield property adjacent.  The protestors are not.  I was remembering my lower Manhattan search for a restroom in the middle of the night when I stayed at Liberty Square all night.  It is really an issue.

As I was leaving, I gave in to a desire I had had since singing “Whose side are you on ?” to the police.  A line of them were hanging crow like on the barriers as I was leaving.  I looked right at one near the end, a sweet looking man, and said to him, “You are on the wrong side of the barriers.”  He looked sheepish and did not deny what I said, kind of nodded his head.  He listened intently as I said that he would one day wish he had joined OWS; that I did not underestimate the difficulty, that he probably had a wife and children and a house payment and needed a job.  That it would take real courage to take his stand on the other side with us, but that it was the right thing to do.  I reminded him that a former police commander had done that today and been arrested, but was going to continue to side with OWS.   I told him that he really belonged on this side.  I also said that one police officer might not make much difference, but what about forty, or two hundred, or two thousand?  I asked why he didn’t try to get others to join him. I reminded him that people from the military services were joining and it made a difference.  He and his colleagues could really make a difference.

I decided that if I am going to be profiled “safe,” I might as well take advantage of that.  This policeman was not unwilling to listen to me, and his fellows did not interrupt us.

Eventually, I went on off in search of a restroom and then home.  There was to be a festival of lights on the Bridge, which I hope went well.  Though the OWS website reports some arrests, it also reports a library on top of the Brooklyn Bridge and a General Assembly on the Brooklyn side.

Headed from Foley Square to the Bridge

The whole day was filled with peaceful protesters ( though not always peaceful police, especially this morning on Wall Street), from Wall Street to a number of subway stations where people told their stories of being evicted and otherwise abused by the banks, to Union Square where the students gathered, to the giant festival on Foley Square where at least 30.000 of us converged. And other cities around the world were doing the same in solidarity with us.  It was a glorious day.

I loved being with these people and feel so grateful that this is happening.  The beautiful young woman, who doesn’t live very far from me, actually, who had been evicted from her home, had a great word. “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.”

Finally, they have come!

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

I am so proud of the  youth who are showing us all how to build a better world.  When the city destroys their camp, they do not go home and weep. Rather, they continue with their plans for a big, festive day of protest all over the city on Thursday.  The combined efforts of the city, the FBI, and other repressive agencies cannot stop them.

Return to Liberty Square

What really moved me, too, was the cooperation and collaboration of the students from a number of campuses who will walk out of classes tomorrow and rally on Washington Square before marching down to Foley Square to meet the OWS group.  I plan to be there on Foley Square again where I have been many times before with a handful of people to see again what it is like to be with a huge crowd.

If you are able to, join us there.

Here is a link to the OWS site and another to plans from that site for November 17.