The right of the people peaceably to assemble...

Nicholas Caleb

Failing to use violence on peaceable assemblies should not be lauded as respectable restraint. Instead, we should be outraged that it is ever even a consideration in the first place!

By Nicholas Caleb of Portland, Oregon. Nick is a local attorney, college professor, and most recently, an Occupy protestor.

I am very, very troubled about a narrative floating around in local political discourse: that Occupy protestors are solely responsible for increased police spending and must cease their activities because they are causing the absurdly large police presence which materializes in order to monitor each protest.

This narrative implicitly assumes that police have no option but to flood the streets with officers when any large group of people gathers together. And apparently, some of the police must be dressed in full riot gear (and visible to everyone) even when there is no indication that violence will occur. The absurdity of this tactic was immediately apparent to anyone who participated in yesterday's protests, filled with citizens young and old -- college students, retirees, established labor officials, war veterans, and other concerned citizens -- marching (while happily dancing to funk music, a sign of violence if I've ever seen one) with the intent of highlighting the failures of a broken system. From the response of the police, you'd have thought that Occupy organizers had proposed a violent overthrow of the local government! Instead, police knew very well from discussions with the organizers and their own secret infiltrations of public meetings (really, what is the point?) exactly which protestors planned to enter banks and be arrested for non-violent disobedience -- sitting in the banks and thereby disrupting business.

Let me propose a different narrative: the police are implementing specific policy choices when they decide to pay their officers overtime and recruit extra officers from departments around the area. They are not forced to do so. In fact, in light of the repeated and consistent peacefulness and non-violence of Occupy protests up to this point, the police go far beyond reasonable bounds when they arrange intimidating displays on the streets. And when individual police officers (names withheld, but I'll be submitting complaints to the city) are visibly itching for a violent confrontation, pushing people around with horses and hitting women with batons, the police are the instigators of violence and not the protectors of citizens.

If it doesn't trouble you that paramilitary dress is now commonplace in crowd control operations, you've already accepted the first narrative. Instead of the proffered rationale that the police are merely protecting protestors and citizens alike, they are demonstrating the modern mindset of police bureaus around the country: people who transgress social norms are not citizens; they are outsiders to the social order. Everyone who saw the protest from an outside perspective was treated to that implicit framing. They probably wonder: "how violent have the protests become if the city feels it needs to call out the riot police to enforce order!?"

The first irony of the situation is that we have a Constitution granting, as its chief civil liberty, the right of citizens to peaceably assemble. Presumably, this right extends to the ability to express displeasure at the dominant ideologies of the day without having to submit to intimidation and implicit threat of violence that accompanies the presence of riot police. Scaring people during an assembly, though not as serious as actually beating them, is a form of prior restraint, of telling you that the State doesn't authorize your message.

As the son of a long-serving district attorney, I was brought up to have a deep and profound respect for law enforcement. I suppose what I previously believed about protests is that crowds are inherently dangerous and not to be trusted. However, after actually protesting a few times in the last few weeks, I now know better, and am appalled at the actions of the Portland Police and scoff at the notion that they deserve any modicum of respect or praise for their handling of the protests. Failing to use violence on peaceable assemblies should not be lauded as respectable restraint. Instead, we should be outraged that it is ever even a consideration in the first place!

The second great irony of this situation is that the Portland Police are going to bankrupt themselves with their adopted strategy if Occupy protests continue. Like a boxer who has just seen a cut open up over his opponent's eye, any Occupy organizer worth his salt is going to notice the vulnerability of the police to this brute economic fact and immediately organize more protests. In fact, the next protest should be aimed directly at the overuse of police force. Imagine the irony of the police coming out dressed like storm troopers to intimidate protestors who are trying to highlight the excessive uses of police force and intimidation. We might be treated to such a show very soon, as leaders of the police apparently cannot tame their authoritarian instincts even when self-preservation and legitimacy are on the line.

Comments

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    Well put.

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    Two quibbles:

    1. The Constitution does not grant rights. It recognizes those rights that people have always had.

    2. Following other points in the Constitution, federal, states, and other government entities have NO rights. They may have powers, but all rights belong to the people.

    So, the question I would like to pose to the police and others:

    "If you have nothing to hide, why are you afraid of the First Amendment?"

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    The GOP and the bankers love this kind of talk that puts enmity between a progressive cause and the police. Guess who wins that argument? Bank of Ameria does..

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    I say shut down the mounted patrol. I believe it's expensive to maintain and has long been used to intimidate protesters with cops riding right into the midst of groups.

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    They kept saying that they pepper sprayed the one woman because she was blocking the road. One video shot they showed tonight on KGW specifically showed that the people were on the sidewalk when sprayed.

    Other video shows officers pushing people from behind into the street while officers in the street push them back towards the sidewalk.

    I was also concerned over photos like this that show an officer yanking a woman's hair:

    http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/732520/the_two_most_shocking_images_of_police_violence_from_yesterday's_day_of_action/

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      Sorry, been so long since I posted that I forgot long links will go across the page like that.

      http://tinyurl.com/7cqxey4

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    And, now we learn about the story of the young woman who had to wait for police response when she called about being raped. The police chief lied to reporters.

    Frankly, as someone who has been at several Occupy Events, I am concerned over the intimidation factors, how the movement is being portrayed, and how many folks continue to demean the cause.

    My hope is that real change happens soon before my state and country are sold off to the biggest corporations and banks.

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    This article on Oregonlive, Occupy Portland: How photojournalist Randy L. Rasmussen captured that image is quite informative. The money quote I got out it:

    Around one corner from the bank were bike officers, waiting for word on how to proceed. But instead of the bike officers addressing the situation, horse-patrol officers came from the opposite corner and waded into the crowd of protesters. The horse patrol cleared a way for foot officers, pushing protesters and media out into the street.

    At one point I made eye contact with a horse patrol officer and he drove his horse right at me, forcing me into the street. From somewhere came an announcement that anyone in the street would be arrested,

    Makes perfect sense. Push the protester into the street then arrest then for being in the street.

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    Good job, people! The tea party is now more popular than OWS thanks to these kinds of tactics and this kind of anti-police rhetoric.

    This is not working, folks! Keep it up and you will sink the whole OWS movement. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/11/16/1037053/-Updated-OWS-Will-NOT-Survive?via=search

    "Occupy Wall Street Favor Fading

    The Occupy Wall Street movement is not wearing well with voters across the country. Only 33% now say that they are supportive of its goals, compared to 45% who say they oppose them. That represents an 11 point shift in the wrong direction for the movement's support compared to a month ago when 35% of voters said they supported it and 36% were opposed. Most notably independents have gone from supporting Occupy Wall Street's goals 39/34, to opposing them 34/42."

    I fear some people on the left would rather fight with the police than actually change our rigged economic and political system.

    I came of age in the 60s and participated in anti-war protect. Every time there was a clash with the police and this kind of anti-police rhetoric, the Vietnam war continued another day,another month, another year, and the people turned against the protestors.

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      I'm amazed that 33% still support OWS.But the point is that we are in a new paradigm now, with the critique now aimed not even just at imperialistic wars but rather at the heart of the imperial oligarchy itself. The 1% will be mobilizing the full power of its media and its pols and its junk-culture distractions in order to discredit this movement, and if OWS even stays in positive double digits in the polls--for now--that will be an accomplishment.

      This movement is not directly about the next election between corporate candidates, or about the current US House and Senate in which 1/2 of the members are themselves multi-millionaires who may be using inside info to play the stock market, or even about voting itself when it's zombi-like. It's about the long-term coming to consciousness of masses of people within the 99% about how we have been living. But maybe it won't take such a long term.

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    Seems obvious that the way to cut police costs would be to fix the broken political-economic system that causes the 99% to protest in the first place. Being a corrupt corporatocracy is expensive!

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    @Bill Ryan: If I remember correctly, the first time the US public polled in a majority against the war was just after the four were shot at Kent State.

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      @Stephen Michael Amy

      Yes, and I was around and remember well when the American people applauded the shooting of the Kent State students. And Kent State led soon to the landslide re-election of Richard Nixon, and the Vietnam War went on for four more years. Today the American people are applauding police actions against OWS demonstrators. These are bad tactics and are hurting the cause. The police should be our allies, why make enemies with them? That's my point.

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        Bill- "the American people applauded the shooting of the Kent State students"? I sure don't remember it that way.

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          They may not have "applauded" but they were a callous bunch. Wiki - Kent State aftermath

          A Gallup Poll taken immediately after the shootings showed that 58 percent of respondents blamed the students, 11 percent blamed the National Guard and 31 percent expressed no opinion.
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            @Grant: this is also from Wiki: "A Gallup poll in May (1970) showed that 56% of the public believed that sending troops to Viet Nam was a mistake; 61% of those over 50 expressed that belief, compared to 49% between the ages 21-29."

            Strange results: those over 50 were more anti-war than those under 30? I definitely don't remember it that way, either.

            Only conclusion to draw: don't trust Gallup.

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              And I'd say that part of Nixon's success in '72 was attributable to the mistaken perception that he was ending the war, as US ground forces were definitely coming home (a reason for that being that there was widespread mutiny in the ranks). But Nixon's air war continued into late '73 (Nixon dropped more aerial ordnance, by far, than any other head of state in world history).

              And so Nixon went on to the landslide, posing as a peacemaker and playing up fears in the US population (McGovern: "Acid, Amnesty, Abortion"). And Henry Kissinger went on to accept 1/2 of the Nobel Peace Prize.

              Ah, Amerika.

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    Anyway, the cops were the antagonists last Thursday. Too bad corporate media didn't report it the way it happened. I don't think the protesters can be blamed for being attacked and then having most media distort the circumstances.

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      In 1970s the media reported that the GDF hippies got what was coming to them. And in 2011 the media reports that the GDF hippies got what was coming to them. And these tactics play right into the media narrative. You want to make enemies with the police? Then just keep it up and lose big time and discredit the legitimate grievances of the middle class and OWS in the process.

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    A little bit of what's happening outside PDX from the Rural Organizing Project. News from Rural Oregon's 99%

    The first of small town (and big city) Oregon’s Occupy events took place last week in Bend, Ashland, Salem, Cottage Grove, Portland, Seaside, Eugene and more. Who is joining in this week? Newport, La Grande, Roseburg, Corvallis, Manzanita, Medford, Port Orford, Klamath Falls, Winston, McMinnville, Astoria, Coos Bay, Albany and growing…

    Read all about it at the link above.

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    http://www.change.org/petitions/sam-adams-fire-chief-of-police-mike-reese

    Please sign this petition to have Mike Reese fired. Mike Reese abused his position of authority and lied to the public. He used a 15 year old rape victim to further a false narrative. Please join us in holding public figures accountable for their actions.

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