The Crackdown on OWS

That the raid on Occupy Wall Street was in the dead of night and involved riot police, anti-terror cops, and throwing thousands of books into a garbage dumpster gave it more than a whiff of fascism, a word I am loathe to use but which fits in this case whether or not those books can be recovered at a Department of Sanitation depot later.

Ray Lewis, a retired police captain from Philadelphia who joined Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park in uniform, said after the Nov. 15 raid, “You should, by law, only use force to protect someone’s life or to protect them from being bodily injured. … And the number one thing that they always have in their favor that they seldom use is negotiation — continue to talk, and talk and talk to people. You have nothing to lose by that.”

Lewis dismissed the city’s concern about unsanitary conditions in the park. “Here they are worrying about dirty parks when people are starving to death, where people are freezing, where people are sleeping in subways,” he said, adding. “That’s obnoxious, it’s arrogant, it’s ignorant, it’s disgusting.”

Lewis’s sign read, “NYPD: Don’t Be Wall St. Mercenaries.” He himself was arrested at the Occupy Wall Street Action on Thursday but said that would not deter him. “They’ll have to arrest me again,” he said.

“We have to bring to light the fact that we are in a police state,” said Jordan Amos, 25, of Philadelphia at Foley Square, holding a sign that read, “A Police State is a Terrorist State.” He was at Zuccotti Park for the Nov.15 raid. “We did not try to harm them or disrespect them,” he said. “Up until that point, we showed the police a lot of love and peace.”

The city blacked out news coverage on the Nov. 15 wee hours raid — keeping reporters blocks away “to protect members of the press” in the mayor’s words and arresting those who stayed and tried to do their jobs with valid police-issued credentials. PEN American Center and PEN International, the world’s oldest international literary and human rights organization, condemned the city action.

“Whatever the arguments for clearing and cleaning the park, denying the rest of us the opportunity to witness the police action through the independent reporting of a free media simply reinforces the suspicion that the city government is seeking to hide from democratic scrutiny,” said Kwame Anthony Appiah, president of PEN American Center. He added, “It is also wrong to deny media access because it runs entirely against the spirit of the First Amendment guarantees that are at the heart of PEN’s mission.”

Gabe Pressman, dean of New York TV reporters and president of NY Press Club Foundation and Glenn Schuck, the president of the Club itself, also condemned the treatment of press at the Occupy eviction. In a letter to Bloomberg, they wrote, “The actions of some police officers were not consistent with the long-established relationship between the NYPD and the press. The brash manner in which officers ordered reporters off the streets and then made them back off until the actions of the police were almost invisible is outrageous. We want the department to investigate the incidents involved in this crackdown on Zuccotti Park and we want assurances it won’t happen again.”

Then there is the trashing of books. Frances Mercanti-Anthony helps run the People’s Library that had amassed thousands of books in Zuccotti Park. She said that after the city threw them all into a dumpster during the raid on Nov. 15, “only 10 percent were recovered. Laptops were smashed.” She said 100 more books were confiscated from the library in Zuccotti Park on Nov. 16 after Occupy was let back in. “It’s an attempt to erect a police state that to exist has to exert power over everyone,” Mercanti-Anthony said.

She had several dozen books laid out on a bench in Foley Square at the massive action on Nov.17 that anyone could borrow or take, “It’s OK for the police to take them, but only if they’re going to read them,” Mercanti-Anthony said said. She held up a copy of the Constitution that she hopes Bloomberg will read.