In an interesting piece by Tom Engelhart , he writes about “the second occupation” going on in New York City right now. By this, he is referring to the police protection of the New York Stock Exchange and its immediate vicinity, which they’ve had locked down since before the marchers arrived on September 17.
He wrote about a recent trip to Wall Street where he saw “the streets around the Stock Exchange barricaded and blocked off to traffic, and police everywhere in every form (in and out of uniform) — on foot, on scooters, on motorcycles, in squad cars with lights flashing, on horses, in paddy wagons or minivans, you name it.”
At the park’s edge, there is a police observation tower capable of being raised and lowered hydraulically and literally hundreds of police are stationed in the vicinity. I counted more than 50 of them on just one of its sides at a moment when next to nothing was going on — and many more can be seen almost anywhere in the Wall Street area, lolling in doorways, idling in the subway, ambling on the plazas of banks, and chatting in the middle of traffic-less streets.
It’s something that Englehart was struck by – “this is all mystifying,” he writes. But he clearly understands the context in which these phenomena are shaped. “In their present state,” he writes, “New York’s finest represent a local version of the way this country has been militarized to its bones in these last years and, since 9/11, transformed into a full-scale surveillance-intelligence-homeland-security state.”
What I find most troubling about the growing movement of occupations in the United States is the universal response to the throngs of threatening riot police, deployed en masse, using military technologies and tactics of crowd control. And while surrounded by such a display of the imminent threat of force and might, a display routinely reinforced through the enactment of brutality against passive protesters and occupiers, many refer to these occupations as “nonviolent.” And this presence, perhaps first viewed as “mystifying,” is soon seen as normative. In fact, the absence of this display of force and threat would seem abnormal.
But beyond normativity, the description of this scene as “nonviolent” represents an interesting view of violence, one that must be linked to an experience and history. Would working class people who have been subject to union busting at gunpoint, who have been beaten by police at strikes have any illusions about such a setting being “nonviolent”? Would people of color who clearly understood “profiling” long before 9/11 made it a household word, those who know that being profiled often means more than an inconvenience, but often a beating and an arbitrary jail sentence? Clearly, for this presence of a fully armed force in military formation to be seen as consistent with an event described as “nonviolent,” the event seems to be enframed by those who have seen the police as a positive force in their lives and their communities.
Englehart reasonably wonders if “drones above New York City” are “next as the police militarize Lower Manhattan?” I wonder what kind of people would share the view that the police are there in their current conditions for reasonable ends enough to interpret such a presence as normal. If one protester breaks the “nonviolent” ranks by supposedly “tackling” a police officer  is the first moment in over a month where the “violence” flows in a different direction, what conditions such a framing?
I’ll frame it differently. When a march that set out promising nonviolence arrived at a public location and were confronted by armed officers, who from that moment on increasingly displayed militarism and aggressive violence, the class war has very plainly and boldly played out on those streets. Never a moment has passed where the oppressive violence has subsided. And like nearly all moments in this class war, it has meant beatings and jailings for those who question authority. The war continues to have all but one side – its asymmetrical militarism displayed similarly to the one-sided wars the capitalists waged against Iraq. For Englehart to describe this as an “occupation” appropriately connotes colonization.
1. Englehart, T. “Wall Street’s Second Occupation: The Rise of the NYPD’s Homeland Security State.” Alternet, October 17, 2011.
2. Elliott, J. “Occupy Wall Street’s struggle for nonviolence.” Salon, October 17, 2011.