The “Good” Police and The Lack of Violence at Occupy Los Angeles
by Tony Chavira
Over the past week, over a thousand people marched in the streets of Oakland, from the public library to a jailhouse, in support of Occupiers who were arrested at the onset of the city’s occupation protest movement. As the protestors reached the jail, they were met by a large group of police officers, who summarily decided that they were threatening enough to target with flash bang grenades and tear gas. As the crowd turned to run, they were hit again from the opposite side, a move by the police meant to break the crowd into pieces as it scurried away from the gas and deafening noise. Here’s how it looked, as recorded by this blogger/Occupier:
In Atlanta, a hip hop festival began in support of the protests without the valid city licenses, and police were sent to break up the crowd. But it was no fault of the concert organizers, who had filed their paperwork accordingly. Instead, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed revoked the permit himself, cancelling the event nearly on the day of. Vendors, promoters, staff … everyone who paid to legally put the event together was hastily shut down and kicked out. This was a strange move for a city that previously showed its support for Occupy Atlanta.
From an outsider’s perspective, Los Angeles police must appear to be dutiful civil servants, maintaining order in the background in stark contrast to police in these places, where the allure of enforcement has led to these and other well-documented crackdowns, arrests and even beatings. It stands in contrast to LAPD’s track record: race-baiting, violence and even, recently, prison assaults.
This calculated LAPD sobriety stands in direct contrast to the daily struggle of those who are deliberately kept below the poverty line and a system that reinforces that struggle with daily displays of police violence. When financial and political powers have become so corrupt that Americans are forced to protest, the only people likely to be arrested are the protestors. Those who structured society to benefit only themselves will be left alone to carry on as usual.
It’s scary when you consider the role police officers play in reinforcing this corruption. Most are likely not evil, vindictive or corrupt. But they cannot be your friends, neighbors or comrades when they are arresting drug addicts instead of helping them to recover; when they are ejecting homeless people instead of helping them find homes; when they are shooting starving thieves instead of helping them find food; or when they are “enforcing safety” instead of joining the protestors’ cause.
Despite what you may hear from your friends, police benefits and pay will never be cut, and there will always be jobs for qualified police officers. They are not civil servants the way others are, and their jobs are not dependent on the economy like everyone else’s. Police are the violent operational tool of the powerful. Using police gives the wealthy the power to enforce their agenda without getting their hands dirty. Police can arrest, detain, and even kill those who stand in the face of our corrupt system. When a police officer shots a psychotic homeless man, a violent meth addict, or a starving thief, they, not the backward system, take the heat. If the protests turn violent, the police become the oppressors, while the wealthy and powerful are allowed to appear sympathetic.
The poor have two options: be victims of the system, or to be its police. This is why Tea Partiers were not arrested but Occupiers were: Tea Partiers are not victims. They did not stand against our true oppressors and were not fighting the corrupt system the elite manufactured for themselves.
I am by no means advocating that Occupiers use violence. The concept of violence is tenuous in American politics, and has traditionally been the resort of conservative hate groups (from the Ku Klux Klan to the Know-Nothings to Christian Nationalists to the contemporary conservative militias). The conservative movement is instilled with the notion that people previously lived better and safer lives, and had stronger ties to their communities. As an urban planning researcher, I can tell you that this is entirely true, and the underlying presumption that “things are worse now than they used to be” is entirely correct.
Though some of these groups advocate for violence today under those pretenses, they are entirely wrong about which minority caused the dissolution of society. It wasn’t atheists, people of color or homosexuals who built cul-de-sac homes 50 miles away from where you work and charge you four dollars a gallon for gas. They didn’t make the weather more extreme; they didn’t put you in debt and bring you to the edge of poverty. They didn’t leverage your 401(k) for their corporate bonuses, they didn’t export your jobs to Asia, and they didn’t fire you. Those in positions of wealth and power did, and they found a way to do all of those things legally.
Martin Luther King Jr. changed the way liberals in America approached injustice when he left behind a legacy that promoted nonviolence as the means to achieve social equality. But King stressed nonviolence as a symbol in the face of a violent society, not as an excuse to accept inappropriate police power. That is a lesson the modern liberal movement seems to have forgotten: standing in the way of violence is not peaceful. Those who want change should not avoid confrontation. They should stand in the face of corruption, regardless of the outcome. In Kings words:
I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.
He is right. Our laws were constructed for justice. Not revenge, not civil order, not religion, not to ease the jobs of the police, and not to benefit the few. Only for justice. Deep down, conservative people understand this; it’s time that liberals understand it too.
Predictably, the Occupy L.A. lawn in front of City Hall is becoming a homeless camp, and the city is responding the way you might expect. Councilmember Bill Rosenthal fired the first shot: “They've made their statement. I agree with their statement, but it is time to move on. The trees are in the process of being impacted. The grass is being impacted. Other activities that we need to do on the lawns are being put on the back burner.”
Councilman Rosendahl doesn’t get it. These people have been made homeless, and are kept homeless, by policies he has direct influence over. And he obviously does not “agree with their statement” if his advice is to “move on” because he’s worried about the impact on a “public” parkspace outside of City Hall.
Occupy L.A. should plant themselves firmly and wait. (Not that the homeless among them have other choices.) Mark my words, the slowly simmering tension will turn to a boil as the community solidifies, and the last shots will be fired by LAPD out of a tear gas canister. But maybe that’s what has to happen to incite real change in the city of Los Angeles. Now that the protestors are becoming less and less convenient for those in power, we'll see for ourselves how much authority those like Councilman Rosendahl are willing to exercise over our society's most downtrodden.