On October 17, hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters gathered in Liberty Park around cakes that had been donated by local businesses. The group was celebrating the one-month anniversary of the occupation, but the moment was simultaneously both joyous and somber.
Though OWS had won some clear victories against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, they had also withstood brutality at the hands of the NYPD.
Each candle glowing atop the cakes represented a protester who had been arrested.
While the Occupy actions have become national symbols of resistance, the movement has also served to underline the problem of America’s massive police state, which is used to suppress freedom of expression and assembly rather than as an instrument to safeguard those liberties.
New York City’s chapter is perhaps the most famous example of this clamp down. The first major media story occurred on September 24 when Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna pepper sprayed five peaceful women who were being held by police officers in orange plastic netting. The clip took Youtube by storm. One of the versions of the video has been viewed more than 1.4 million times.
Bologna, along with a second officer, deputy inspector Johnny Cardona, were placed under investigation by the New York Civilian Complaint Review Board. Ultimately, Bologna only lost ten vacation days for the attack, while Cardona is being investigated over his own Youtube clip sensation featuring an incident in which he punched Felix Rivera Pitre in the face.
There were other incidents, including a police motorcycle running over a National Lawyers Guild member’s leg, reports and video of police wildly beating protesters with their batons, and even charging horses into a crowd of activists.
Horse-mounted police were dispatched during the occupation of Times Square on October 15. Thousands of protesters were pinned inside a relatively tiny space with steel gates, and it was difficult to move at all, let alone run, when the horses charged forward. It was only sheer luck that prevented any major injuries. Nearly 100 people were arrested, including some individuals who attempted to close their Citibank accounts.
“There is no honor in this!” Marine Sergeant Shamar Thomas later screamed at police in a now famous Internet video clip. “How do you do this to people? How do you sleep at night? You’re here to protect them! You’re here to protect us! Why are you hurting US citizens?” The police were eerily silent during the questioning before they walked away from Thomas.
Mixed in with the police mopeds and horses were at least five counterterrorism officers. Much has been made of the $1.9 million the city has shelled out in overtime pay for officers monitoring Liberty Park, but the police presence both at Liberty and the other citywide occupations is vast and overzealous. For an overwhelmingly peaceful movement, the city has unleashed a massive police state, complete with counterterrorism officers, just in case Al Qaeda is huddled in their midst.