Someone I know posted on Facebook earlier today. I’m not sharing this here to name names or try to shame anyone, but because I’ve been trying to figure out what I can say about the Occupy movement that hasn’t already been said by many better-informed and more-eloquent writers than myself. While I agree with the goals of the Occupy movement, I haven’t had much to add to the conversation, except to chime in that I think that the police response to the movement will have a greater impact than the actual protests.
This was the Facebook post:
I have been watching all of the posts for the last few weeks about the “violence” the police forces have been using against the “occupy” protesters. All I can think is get over it. If the cop tells you to clear out and go home … you get off your ass and go home. These men and women are paid to try to control these enormous crowds when they could be out fighting real crime. People, go home, go back to your jobs and classes and be thankful that you have them.
First off, nothing has ever been fixed or improved simply by being thankful with what you’ve got. Just because you’re not unemployed and homeless doesn’t mean that you should stop trying to make life better for yourself and everyone around you.
The more serious problem with thinking like this, though, is the fundamental misunderstanding of some pretty critical concepts.
- The right to free assembly. There’s a reason they put it first.
- The history and importance of civil disobedience in bringing attention to injustices of society, both here and abroad.
But most importantly:
- The role and function that police are supposed to serve in our society.
Whether you agree with the goals of the Occupy movement or not, I think it’s clear that the attitudes expressed here can be dangerous. “If the police tell you to move, move. Otherwise, you can expect to be pepper sprayed.”
It seems reasonable, then, to take that thinking to the next level:
- If the police tell you to stop preaching your religion in a public park, stop preaching. Otherwise, you can expect to be pepper sprayed.
- If the police tell you to go home because it’s after 11 PM, go home. Otherwise, you can expect to be pepper sprayed.
- If the police tell you to turn off your video camera when you catch them using excessive force during a traffic stop, turn off your camera. Otherwise, you can expect to be pepper sprayed.
- If the police tell you to pull down your pants so that they can have sex with you, pull down your pants. Otherwise, you can expect to be raped (and if you don’t think that’s realistic, just Google “police officer rape”).
When I was kid, the police were supposed be the good guys. And I suppose this is still something we tell our children: the police are the good guys. If you’re in trouble, find a cop or call 911; they’re the people to help. Increasingly, the police forces in our nation seem to be more interested in shows of dominance than in serving and protecting citizens. In the worst cases, it’s pepper spraying a line of peaceful protestors; in everyday cases, it’s a line of unmarked cop cars backing up traffic in a no-parking zone in front of my grocery store so that they can all go get lunch. Because they can—who would you call to have them towed?
Naturally, the police themselves are often not to blame: they’re just following orders, right? In most cases, if some higher authority thats telling them to clear a park, to force crowds onto a bridge for arrest, or to pepper spray people who are peacefully sitting on a sidewalk. It says a lot about the kind of society we are becoming that our own police force is routinely turned on citizens the way that it is.
It’s a dangerous road to go down, and it’s important that people resist. You don’t need to agree with what is being said to recognize and defend the right to say it.