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New York: The Police and the Protesters by Michael Greenberg | The New York Review of Books

"There are ways to use the system to challenge the system," said Siegel. "Unfortunately, Occupy wasn't willing or sophisticated enough to maneuver in this manner."2

To be sure, OWS's no-negotiation policy wasn't the only, or even the main, cause of the harsh police crackdown. But on the street level it did serve to exacerbate an atmosphere of escalating confrontation. Some activists regarded every officer as the representative of an enemy state, cursing in their faces across the metal barricades, hoping to provoke a violent response, it sometimes seemed, that could be digitally recorded and then broadcast on Occupy's global Internet feed. During the movement's early days last fall, scenes of police brutality dramatically fueled Occupy's popular rise. But after protesters were evicted from Zuccotti Park on November 15, clashes with police followed a law of diminishing returns, isolating activists, diverting attention from the social and economic injustices the movement had set out to challenge, and scaring away less militant supporters.

During the movement's heyday in Zuccotti Park in the autumn of 2011, I heard many blue-collar officers express sympathy for its message. In a financial district bar one night in early November, a group of six or seven off-duty cops told me they disapproved of the aggressiveness of some of their superiors and colleagues. There were always a few "sadistic types," they said, who used the opportunity of a free-for-all demonstration to have "what to them is a good time." In general, the group agreed that "these kids are making sense," as one female officer put it. They all considered political demonstrations to be "a great gig. There are no guns pointed at us and we get time and a half." Obviously, the personal political beliefs of New York's 36,000 police officers vary widely, a fact that Occupy protesters, for the most part, seemed either to ignore or not understand.

The First Amendment right that activists fatally seemed to misinterpret is that of freedom of assembly. Their confusion is understandable. Freedom of assembly is a concept, not a fixed law, a shifting proposition that is constantly being challenged, if not entirely redefined. The confusion that perennially surrounds it derives from the fact that it is not an absolute right; it depends on circumstances and must take into account the interests of competing groups. Reasonable time, place, and manner of assembly are among several governing factors. You can't, for example, trespass in the name of free assembly or obstruct the free movement of others or appropriate a public space in a way that excludes those who have an equal right to use it.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Sep 28th, 2012 at 06:40:47 AM EST
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