Forging a People's Wall
"Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind." — Article 10, New Hampshire Constitution
Kat, a friend of mine in New Hampshire, arrived in New York City for the first time for the #S17 demonstrations on Monday at 11 a.m., and by 1 p.m., she'd been arrested. She didn’t get out of the tombs until Tuesday morning. She’s currently staying with friends, has no money saved up and no income, yet she has to come back to the city in a month for a court date, where her charge of “obstructing a pedestrian walkway” will likely be dismissed. Everything will be back to normal for Kat, minus the psychological damage from an unlawful arrest, an unjust imprisonment, and all the money she spent getting to and from New York.
Kat was merely one of more than 200 protesters, including myself, who were arrested without cause or warning during #S17 weekend, when the NYPD again, and repeatedly, showed blatant disregard for First Amendment rights of free speech, free assembly and free press.
Making a transition from high-profile, solidarity-building mass arrests like the kind that happened on Brooklyn Bridge last year, Bloomberg’s NYPD now use much scarier, much more aggressive and violent “snatch-and-grab” tactics, where protesters are attacked and shoved to the ground by a phalanx of cops. As the protester is being arrested, another wall of cops forms around the arrest, with batons drawn and muscles flexed, to prevent others from coming in and helping or taking pictures. In this video, you can see how casually a Code Pink activist is snatched and grabbed by cops who put her in a van moments after she was protesting on a public sidewalk. Instead of helplessly chanting “SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!” after one of these arrests, what if we instead adopted aggressive, nonviolent, counter-arrest measures?
What if, whenever NYPD officers made a random snatch-and-grab arrest, activists immediately formed a phalanx several people deep, with arms clenched at the elbow and hands behind their backs to prevent the cops from getting to the police van? Once the wall is formed, those surrounding the arresting officers would then forcibly and nonviolently remove cops from the arrestee, using the combined strength of several people. The cop would be pushed through the wall, which would then form again to protect the would-be arrestee. This should be a maneuver that activists routinely rehearse, especially in New York. If the police are adapting their arrest tactics, we should adapt our own tactics to protect innocent people from unlawful arrest, imprisonment, and costly court dates and attorney fees.
Police tackling nonviolent protesters to the ground and kneeling on their heads while cuffing them is something one would perhaps expect in authoritarian regimes like China, Burma or North Korea, but it should never happen in America, where all citizens have the constitutionally-protected right to nonviolently protest their government. If taxpayer-funded police are so beholden to their corporate and financial sponsors (like J.P. Morgan) to ignore the constitutional rights they’ve sworn to protect, then we have to take matters into our own hands to protect those rights, using our own bodies if necessary.
Until then, every elected official who swore an oath to protect the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic, must be obliged to strongly denounce the NYPD and other police departments’ suppression of nonviolent political dissent. If they won’t allow nonviolent protest, what other choice does it leave us?