J. Brad Hicks (bradhicks) wrote,
  • Mood: depressed

When Law Isn't Enough to Stop Protest, NYPD Sexually Assaults and Tortures #OWS. NYT Yawns.

David Graeber of nakedcapitalism.com has made what ought to be a devastating accusation against the New York Police Department: "New Police Strategy in New York -- Sexual Assault against Peaceful Protesters." After interviewing many of the participants in the Occupy Wall Street protests of March 17th of this year, Graeber has concluded that NYPD officers are deliberately sexually assaulting female protesters, in plain sight of nearby male protesters, in hopes of provoking a violent reaction, that can then be used to justify torturing the protesters (boot-stomping already-restrained protesters in the head, hands, wrists, and ribs in order to cripple them) for the crime of "interfering with a law enforcement officer."

Graeber says that his interviews with the targeted protesters, many of whom have been with OWS since last fall, say that this cannot be the work of a few rogue officers, because it didn't happen with any regularity until March 17th, and then on the 17th it became something that multiple cops, widely separated from each other, all started to do at the same time. Graeber argues that the only way that's possible is if the effort was intentional and coordinated, meaning either something the officers conspired among themselves to do, or that they were ordered to do by someone above all of those officers in the chain of command. Either way, it's a criminal conspiracy. But so what?

I've been reading a lot of history lately, mostly related to the peak industrialization years of 1870 to 1950, and I'm starting to realize that there are ideas that I take for granted because of when I was born that are the product of a weird, and possibly unsustainable, anomaly in American history. Prior to the late 1950s, the idea that anything in the US Constitution, or that anything in written law anywhere, would be applied in such a way as to inconvenience a law enforcement officer who was doing his duty, was unthinkable.

And the duty of any cop or sheriff was not, prior to that time, "enforcing the law." His duty was making the complaints of land-owners and employers go away. And the main tool they had for making those complaints go away was to go to the person being complained about, tell them to stop doing whatever it is that the land-owner or employer is complaining about, and if they don't stop, hit them with a big stick. Whether what they were doing was legal or not was of no interest whatsoever to the police and sheriffs because, frankly, no court and no legislature was going to care. Any cop or sheriff who said to a land-owner or an employer, "I can't stop that person from annoying you, what they're doing is legal," was going to find himself unemployed and permanently unemployable. Land-owners and employers have always had plenty of power to make non-compliant cops' lives miserable.

The mass mobilization, and mass propaganda, that accompanied US entry into WW2, followed by the horror at the discovery of the Holocaust, left the "Greatest Generation" with a revulsion against arbitrary authority and a reverence for the rule of law that is entirely anomalous in human history. And the GI Bill made a lot of them into lawyers. As those law-school grads rose to power, from around 1955 on, they passed some really unpopular laws and some even more unpopular court rulings that can be summarized as, "I don't care what land-owners and employers want, if people aren't doing anything illegal, cops can't hit them with sticks."

A big part of what the 1980 election was about was an all-out revolt by everybody in America who owns even a tiny bit of land, or who employs even a couple of people, against those court rulings. And it's only aging liberals like me who take those court rulings as scriptural, because we were raised in the only generation of Americans who were told that "we are a nation ruled by laws, not men" isn't just an aspirational slogan, it's enforceable. Nobody before us was told this; since my generation were kids, fewer people have been told this every year. If you were born after around 1970, you were probably told what every American born before 1920 was told: if a land-owner or an employer tells a cop to stop you from doing something, the cop should pass that order along, and if you don't obey the cop, then whatever happens next is not the cop's fault or the land-owner's fault or the employer's fault, it's something you deserved for not doing what you were told.

But this isn't just hitting people with sticks. This is sexual assault and torture as an anti-protest tactic and, as Graeber points out in his article, that's something we saw recently used against people who were raised with no expectation of fair and impartial rule of law: the Egyptian anti-fascist, anti-secularist, anti-corruption protesters of Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring. The Egyptian army and its closely-allied national cops made it clear to the protesters: bring your women into this, and we'll rape them, and then we'll torture you for defending them. They thought that would stop the protests, but it was so outrageously over the top that the revulsion against it was a major propaganda tool that the Islamists used to sweep the generals' hand-picked President from power, and it's revulsion that has lasted long enough that, if I'm interpreting the latest polls correctly, it looks like it's going to sweep a moderate Islamist into power there, as the accusation of sexual assault and torture as an anti-protest tactic has tainted even secularists who weren't directly involved.

So Graeber's accusation is a powerful and important one, one that you'd think that powerful people in New York City cannot dare ignore. It's an accusation that, once made, cannot be allowed to stand; if it can be refuted, the person who made it must be humiliated, and if it can't, then scapegoats must be found fast before political contagion spreads. (Although scapegoating cops is a dangerous tactic for people who can only stay in power through the loyalty of the cops.) When the New York Times was contacted by Graeber, and shown his evidence, the NYT reporter took that evidence to an editor. The reporter then told Graeber that the story got spiked. Why? "Because it's not news." That's what it's come to: police in America's largest city using a policy of widespread sexual assault and widespread torture isn't even news-worthy any more.

And why would it be? Occupy Wall Street annoyed land-owners and employers. Those land-owners and employers used the time-honored counter-tactic of making cops' lives miserable, and threatening their livelihood, until the cops used the time-honored tactic of telling them to stop annoying land-owners and employers, and when they wouldn't stop annoying the land-owners and employers, they hit them with sticks. Hitting them with sticks wasn't enough to stop them, and the land-owners and employers are complaining louder than ever. To any American born before around 1920, or after around 1970, what happened after that, if it happened? Probably isn't really news, at that.
Tags: current events, history
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