NY Challenged: It Is Easy To Forget Who We Are Really Fighting


There were several incidents of police violence at Occupy Wall Street. (Mario Weddell/The Observer)


There were several incidents of police violence at Occupy Wall Street. (Mario Weddell/The Observer)

The past few days, there have been a few New York City demonstrations and protests headlining the news (I say that as if The News is a hip music festival). Occupy Wall Street down in Zuccotti Park and SlutWalk NYC in Union Square have both drawn decent crowds for vaguely specific causes. By vaguely specific, I mean that the protestors are combating a system viewed as corrupt, not a specific recent event or recent injustice. For contrast, I would point to a march in support of Troy Davis as an example of a specific case.

Of the two protests, I’d say that Occupy Wall Street has definitely been the less articulate about its complaints and demands until recently, when the so-called “General Assembly” published their demands on a website.  Regardless, reports of violence between police and protestors came from the Wall Street site before their demands were clear, which sort of bothered me, because I didn’t feel like anyone had a strong enough reason to be fighting, whether they be police or protestors.

Sometimes it makes sense to fight the police. It makes sense if you’re protesting something pertaining to police injustice, like the Sean Bell incident. If you attack the police, it makes sense for them to fight back, too. No one should be expected to take a beating.

Protests are driven by emotions coupled with reason. People feel outrage at something, determine that it is unjust, and come together to voice their dissension with the object of provoking change. At Occupy Wall Street, the emotion was there, but the reason was lacking. This goes for the police and the protestors alike.

I watched a video on OccupyWallSt.org that showed some protestors yelling at the police (one woman used the word “fascists”), and a police officer using pepper spray on one of the protestors. Both sides made mistakes.

The protestors messed up when they considered the police their enemies. A little thought would have led them to the conclusion that the police are a product of the corporate chokehold on the economy, not a representation of it. A police officer unsupportive of a cause is often seen as lacking a sense of humanity. It’s important to remember that a police officer is an employee, trying to do a job, and that means keeping protestors behind a line to maintain order.

Like all employees, a police officer has to do the job to get a paycheck. Why? Because that officer might have a family and bills to pay. It’s hard for a person to get by without steady employment, unless that person is… a corporate mogul. So while it might be irritating that a police officer doesn’t seem to realize he and the protestors are fighting the same battle, the protestors have to realize it, too.

It’s not fair to accuse an officer of lacking a sense of humanity for doing his job. Most people I know are more likely to support their loved ones, which includes keeping a job to pay their bills, than to sympathize with a group of strangers.

It’s possible to accuse a police officer of not seeing the big picture, for continuing to enforce a corrupt system in exchange for a paycheck. But being a street cop is a working class job. For the working class, the short term is much more of a reality, and the big picture is no job, no money.

That being said, keeping a job means doing a job well. I can’t defend the actions of a police officer who responds to a peaceful, although verbally hostile, demonstration with violence. I criticized the protestors for viewing police officers as the enemy to begin with, provoking them while the real problem sits in an office 20 stories above them, deaf to their cries. After the unnecessary use of force by some officers, though, I can’t really preach empathy. It’s hard to defend someone who so willingly frames himself as an enemy. Law enforcers have a duty to the people, and right now, the people are fighting for the rights of everyone.

This is why the Stonewall riots were so moving in 1969. Members of the LGBT and supporters, finally stood up to a history of police bullying, by fighting the police. Successful protests target the right enemies. I hope the Wall Street occupiers find a powerful way to do this soon enough. A declaration of grievances certainly is an encouraging step, so I’ll sit in anticipation of the next move.