by Jeremy Leaming
Not only is Occupy Wall Street attracting more supporters and spreading to other cities, but it is sparking some over-the-top reaction from police departments.
Yesterday in Boston, for example, when OccupyBoston protestors sought to move from Dewey Square to a portion of Greenway Park, which encompasses open park space, police arrested more than 100 people, including the executive director of the National Lawyers Guild’s northeast regional office. Urszula Masny-Latos was among the protestors as a legal observer, wearing a green cap that identified her as such – it included "legal observer" in bold letters across the front.
Since the inception of the OWS movement, the National Lawyers Guild has offered legal assistance to the protestors, who are engaged in peaceful and expanding demonstrations over a growing economic inequality gap in the country, and the lack of accountability for the large corporations that ushered in the Great Recession, and were then bailed out by taxpayers.
Masny-Latos described to The Boston Globe her experience, saying, “They really attacked. They used force that was completely unnecessary. … It was just brutal. I have no idea why they arrested us with such force.”
Regarding her arrest, she said, “It was very surprising. Boston police usually respect our legal observers. And they usually leave us alone. … I was legal observing. I wasn’t even chanting anything.”
When police, many in riot gear, descended upon the protestors, they started throwing them to the ground, some numerous times, see video here, and fastening their wrists with riot cuffs.
A post from Occupy Wall Street’s website from earlier in the day condemned the actions of the Boston Police Department and New York City Police Department. (The OWS protests launched in NYC in September, along with accounts of abusive police enforcement.)
“Every day the actions of the BPD, NYPD, etc. continue to remind us that the police no longer fight to ‘protect and serve’ the American people, but rather the wealth and power of the 1%. With each passing day, as the violence of the state continues to escalate, the myth of American ‘democracy’ becomes further shattered.”
On its website, OccupyBoston issued a press statement saying police “made no distinction between protestors, medics, or legal observers ….”
The press statement added that its organization is “the beginning of an ongoing discussion about reforming Wall Street and removing special interests from government.”
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino saw nothing inappropriate with the tactics of the police officers, telling The Globe that “civil disobedience will not be tolerated.” The mayor, however, claimed that he supported the message emanating from the protests. “I agree with them on the issues,” he said. “Foreclosure. Corporate greed. These are issues I’ve been working on my entire career.”
The National Lawyers Guild’s website includes information for the protestors and numbers to call for legal assistance. Beyond fighting for the First Amendment rights of the OWS protestors, the National Lawyers Guild says its mission includes bringing “together all those who recognize the importance of safeguarding and extending the rights of workers, women, farmers, people with disabilities and people of color upon whom the welfare of the entire nation depends ….”
Right-wing pundits have largely derided the OWS movement as pointless. Not long ago Fox News talking head Brit Hume rhetorically asked ‘who cares’ about economic inequality.
Leading economists like Columbia Business School Professor Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, among many others, do. But as Stiglitz noted earlier this year, the nation’s top 1 percent is wildly out of touch with the rest of the nation and counting on a continued dysfunction in Washington, D.C. to keep in place economic policies that have benefited the wealthiest few.
In an Oct. 8 editorial, The New York Times said, “At this point, protest is the message: income inequality is grinding down that middle class, increasing the ranks of the poor, and threatening to create a permanent underclass of able, willing but jobless people. On the one level, the protestors, most of them young, are giving voice to a generation of lost opportunity.”