Ayesha Kazmi writes: In our not-so-distant history, protest in the United States was handled by local law enforcement that treated demonstrations and marches as mere nuisance, mediating and directing as needed. Today, observing the interaction between Occupy movements and law enforcement suggests something different is afoot. Present Occupy protests are now being defined by a bewildering set of law enforcement strategies – and current practices display a worrying new trend.
While riot police are not necessarily an everyday feature at any given protest, the sheer frequency with which we are witnessing their presence on city streets throughout the United States is enough to give average citizens cause for concern; the excessive force being routinely deployed is alarming.
Within the first few days of Occupy Wall Street, protesters began to notice the presence of the NYPD’s Counter Terrorism Unit at Liberty Plaza. Joanne Stocker, who has become a fixture since day one at Wall Street, recalls within the first few days waking up to a Counter Terrorism Unit van, parked on the fringes of Liberty Plaza, which was taking video of her and her friends while they slept.
Protesters at other Occupy encampments give similar accounts. Robin Jacks, a member of Occupy Boston’s media team, relates being photographed multiple times by police. Dustin Slaughter, who has spent time both at Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Philadelphia, attests to the presence of the NYPD Counter Terrorism Unit at Liberty Plaza, saying that the Counter Terrorism Unit have been at Liberty Plaza filming on a regular basis. Slaughter also comments: “Philadelphia Police Homeland Security Units have had a regular presence at the Occupy Philadelphia encampment.”
Protesters are indeed correct to view the law enforcement they encounter at Occupy with a critical eye. The USA Patriot Act, which had its 10-year anniversary last week, gave the US government virtually unchecked powers to spy and track the activity of ordinary Americans without probable cause right after the 9/11 attacks. For that reason, it should come as no surprise that law enforcement agencies – thus empowered – have shown up at various Occupy protests armed with cameras, most certainly, to keep surveillance on protesters who are merely exercising their first amendment rights.
Reports of targeted arrests of informal “leaders” at Wall Street, Chicago and Boston indicate surveillance measures are operating. In Boston and Chicago, reports of extended and humiliating detentions of targeted occupy “leaders”, typically from Direct Action, media, legal and medics groups, are disturbing. Dan Massoglia of the Occupy Chicago media team further reports that arrested individuals were deprived of their phone call, food and water, and that mattresses were removed from cells, while one woman was placed in solitary confinement.