Police Brutality Accompanies the Occupy Movement



Charlie Puente/The Observer Disbelief in American values results when police violence threatens our very right to protest. (Charlie Puente)

I became aware of Occupy Wall Street for the first time when a student mentioned it in my theology class. A classmate had insisted we join in the protest that had just begun downtown. The protest, we guessed, had something to do with corporate greed and the current state of the economy. I decided not to go since I didn’t want to go all the way downtown to protest for a couple of hours. Not that I didn’t, and don’t, think this is a noble cause.

However, the movement truly caught my attention when I learned of the pepper spray incident after it occurred on Sept. 24. It only caught the corner of my eye airing on television, but the image of a group of penned girls, screaming in obvious agony, was hard to ignore. I had been on my way out the door, wanting to get to work early, but as soon as I had seen the video I sat down next to my roommate and watched the entire grainy video of the girls being pepper sprayed.

I admit I didn’t even know how to react in those first moments. It was only later that my outrage finally came and with it an obsession for this new-found element in the movement. Since then I’ve been actively following the Occupy movements for signs of any other unsavory happenings. Unfortunately, I have not been disappointed.

The next step in brutality came in the form of Occupy Boston. According to their website post “Boston Police Brutally Assault Occupy Boston,” the movement received massive support from “an estimated ten thousand…to demand economic reform on Wall Street and the end of special interest influence in Washington.”

It sounds like a beautiful thing. Thousands gathered in the iconic city where America had originally fought for liberty from their oppressors. However, the Boston police didn’t feel the same way. The Occupy Boston website informed us that “[a]t 1:30 [a.m.]…hundreds of police in full riot gear brutally attacked Occupy Boston, which had peacefully gathered on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The Boston Police Department made no distinction between protesters, medics or legal observers.” This post, along with several amateur videos and photos of that night, sparked a response from the NYC Occupation which was to condemn the Boston police and to ask for their supporters to do the same.

This attack fueled my anger, but it also fueled my fear. According to the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston websites, the police hadn’t bothered to make any distinction between the people gathering to protest. They were even attacking medics. And not only were they attacking medics, but they were attacking medics while they were administering help to the wounded. Maybe it’s American exceptionalism talking, but for some reason, I thought we were better than that.

Similarly, on Oct. 25 in Occupy Oakland, there was an attack from the police force that left several wounded. According to The New York Times, a war veteran, Scott Olsen, suffered a serious head injury after the Oakland police force opened fire on the protesters with bean-bag rounds and cans of tear gas.

The police insist that they did not use rubber bullets, but the rubber bullets found in the aftermath and the wounds of several protesters suggests otherwise. It makes me wonder if this is this really what we’ve come to. Arresting, pepper spraying and attacking protesters? Watching these videos and hearing these stories, with more coming every day, is beyond flabberghasting.

But my main frustration is that when you see a policeman attacking someone, there’s not a lot you can do about it. If a cop hits you, no matter what happens, it’s difficult to defend yourself. Maybe some of these people were being violent first, but what about the people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time? These crowds are large and people are angry. However, does angry protesting justify this kind of abuse? Instead of trying to discourage people by harming and scaring them, why not try to help them so that they don’t feel the need to protest?

The police and the government are supposed to protect us, but I haven’t felt very protected for the past few months. The violence happening here is madness and I can only hope that something will happen soon. Something that will defuse this situation before we move farther away from the standard we’ve held ourselves to for such a long time.