A funny thing happens when one uses the term “police state” to describe behavior by authorities in response to the Occupy protests. Very Serious Company turns pale and insists that the United States is not turning into a police state—at least not yet. America isn’t North Korea or East Germany or Russia, for goodness sake, Very Serious Company continues. Police don’t physically snatch journalists off the streets and murder them in back alleys, so no one has the right to label the United States a “police state.”
Yet what the Occupy Wall Street protests have helped reveal is that it is this hesitancy to acknowledge the authoritarian behavior of police that gives them cover when they—along with city officials—blatantly violate the rights of citizens.
Wall Street Mercenaries
Back in October, I wrote about how Occupy helped to highlight the problem of disappearing public space. Many Occupy camps (Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston and Zuccotti Park in New York City, for example) were built in parks owned by a mixture of public and private interests, and it was this private half of the partnership that gave authorities cover when they moved in to destroy the camps.
After all, private property is private property. When presented with this aphorism, people tend to imagine dirty hippies wrestling their own beloved possessions from their arms when, in fact, private companies often receive a far sweeter deal with the state than average citizens.
Brookfield Properties, the company that owns Zuccotti Park, owes $139,000 in back taxes. The company, on whose board Mayor Bloomberg’s girlfriend Diana Taylor sits, didn’t pay its taxes in 2009… or 2008… or 2007. Or 2006. This means that Brookfield is permitted to own the land for a song, and taxpayers step in to fill the revenue void. Then, when actual taxpayers attempted to use the land, Mayor Bloomberg’s private army rushed in to immediately defend the land on behalf of Brookfield.
Along with the NYPD, private security contractors such as MSA Security, defended Zuccotti from the First Amendment. Kevin Conner, co-founder of Public Accountability Initiative, reports:
MSA Security (formerly Michael Stapleton Associates), has even stronger ties to the NYPD. MSA Security, which advertises itself as being “In the business of business as usual,” listed Brookfield Properties on its website until a few days ago, but the client list has since been taken down. The google cache is available here. MSA’s clients in the financial sector include AIG, Goldman Sachs, NYSE Euronext (the stock exchange), and Bank of America. It also provides security services to Fox News and a number of real estate firms, including World Trade Center site developer Silverstein Properties.
Retired Philadelphia police captain Ray Lewis refers to the NYPD as “Wall Street mercenaries,” which is an apt title given that JPMorgan Chase made a massive $4.6 million donation to the NYPD, the largest such gift in the history of the New York City Police Foundation.