Tag Archives: occupy-wall-street

The unfolding disaster

TW: islamophobia, racist criminalization, police brutality, violence against protesters, institutionalization, sexual assault

(Until recently, almost all substantive coverage of this has been actually from foreign media, like the above protest sign that explains “We don’t want a spying, lying NYPD commissioner” which was published in the UK newspaper, The Guardian.)

There’s astoundingly little for me to say about Alex Pareene’s piece on the on-going early contest for the position of mayor of New York. It’s rare to see the larger context of corruption, racism, and fear mongering so effectively pulled together to provide a detailed account of what the current political situation in that city is, so it seems definitely worth a quite read. To give you a taste:

Let’s run down the record quickly: Kelly’s NYPD acts (to the annoyance of the FBI) like an international intelligence agency devoted entirely to spying on Muslims. The department has a network of informants spying on American Muslims known as “mosque-crawlers.” NYPD spies monitored Muslims in Newark as well, compiling a vital list of… restaurants. The NYPD even spied on Muslims who sought to ally themselves with the city against terrorism. (You can read the Associated Press’ award-winning coverage of the NYPD’s inept/counterproductive spying operations here.)

The NYPD has “trained” its officers with a virulent Islamophobic movie called “Third Jihad,” which claims that “much of the Muslim leadership in America” has a “strategy to infiltrate and dominate” the U.S.. Kelly appeared in this movie in an interview. When questioned about this, NYPD spokesperson Paul Browne lied about Kelly’s appearance, because everyone in the NYPD, from the highest levels to the beat cops, lies constantly, to juries and judges and the press.

Kelly’s NYPD costs the city a lot of money. Not just in the “buying drones and military-grade noise cannons while people starve in the streets” sense (though that is one way) but in the constantly getting sued for brutality and wrongful imprisonment and so on way.

The 2004 Republican National Convention took place in New York, and in preparation for the convention Kelly and Bloomberg spent a lot of time spying on activists in order to figure out how best to illegally arrest hundreds of protesters. A judge ruled the NYPD tactics unconstitutional, opening the door to more lawsuits.

The NYPD is a world-leader in marijuana arrests. The vast majority of those arrested have been black men, a group the city has explicitly persecuted under Kelly and Bloomberg in a depressing variety of ways. Between 2002 and 2012 the NYPD made 440,000 arrests for low-level marijuana possession. Until Kelly finally told officers to stop doing so in 2011, a common police tactic was to trick or coerce people being frisked into taking drugs out of their pockets themselves, putting the marijuana in “public view” and making it an arrestable offense. (This is also illegal.)

Of course, another common NYPD tactic is to simply plant drugs on suspects.

And we haven’t even gotten to the massive ticket-fixing thing, which led to charges against 16 officers. And the mass demonstration of NYPD officers outside the courthouse following those arrests, in which the cops said they were “just following orders” and mockingly chanted “E.B.T.” at people lined up to receive benefits across the street. (And the officer indicted for trying to pay to have a witness against him killed.) At least the ticket-fixing was one of the very, very few incidents of NYPD criminality that was actually uncovered by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, which has otherwise failed to police the police.

There are also the tapes produced by Adrian Schoolcraft, an officer who recorded NYPD activity in Bed-Stuy and revealed the widespread manipulation of arrest data designed to game “CompStat,” the much-vaunted Bloombergian data-driven police management program. Schoolcraft found that an NYPD cop “is expected to maintain high ‘activity’—including stop-and-frisks—but, paradoxically, to record fewer actual crimes.” Schoolcraft also confirmed the existence of “quotas” for arrests, summons and frisks — something else the NYPD lied about for years. Cops were told to arrest people for petty crimes (or for nothing at all) and downplay more serious ones, in order to show that the police were busy but that serious crime wasn’t a problem. Schoolcraft’s superiors sent the whistleblower to a psych ward for six days. Kelly then kept the NYPD’s own internal investigation into his allegations secret for two years.

And let’s not forget the gun-running, the rapes, the various incidents of casual racism, and arrests of black public officials at the West Indian Day Parade. And, of course, lying about arresting journalists at Occupy Wall Street, and destroying the library, and everything else.

It’s hard to be more damning than that in my mind, and keep in mind that’s just a portion of the article.

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Is class consciousness back in style?

Earlier today, Paul Krugman mused on the unexpected reversal of fortunes in the current presidential election. He noted that enthusiasm and unity have been shown on the Democratic side while decidedly lacking among Republicans, a bit of a contradiction of political stereotypes. But furthermore, he recognized a slow but steady shift in public attitudes:

Among other things, while we weren’t looking, social issues became a source of Democratic strength, not weakness — partly because the country has changed, partly because the Democrats have finally worked up the nerve to stand squarely for things like reproductive rights. […] The right is already set up to blame poor Mitt, claiming that he lost because he wasn’t conservative enough. But that’s not what we’re seeing; it looks as if voters are rejecting the right’s whole package, not just the messenger. As I said, not the election anyone was expecting — but a happy surprise for some, and a nasty shock for others.

There’s clear evidence on this point – as majorities of people in the United States now support same-sex marriage  and other progressive policy changes the Republicans oppose. I subtly suggested yesterday that the distinction between “social” and “economic” issues is a bit more fluid that usually acknowledged – economic protection from gender discrimination interacts with social policies towards women who either live independently or only with other women. I think it’s worth looking at issues of economic populism holistically – not just as political and economic issues but also as potential contexts of pop culture. From The Hunger Games to In Time, economic inequality has become a common topic in entertainment in the United States and elsewhere. Suzanne Collins, the author of the original Hunger Games trilogy, clearly called the trend as she planned out the books over the course of 2008 and published the first on September 14, 2008, a day before panic would break out on Wall Street after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.

For much of the following year, political debate in the United States would focus on class. It’s hard to deny the mingled forces of popular culture and economic populism in the following election. But even afterwards, a focal question at the time was whether deficit reduction (as suggested by the Tea Party protests) or unemployment (as suggested by the President’s and Congress’ stimulus plans) was the  greater danger for the poor and middle class. Ultimately, the discussion between restrained Keynesian approaches from the federal government and ostensibly grassroots protests from deficit-hawk conservatives was joined by the on-going Occupy protests of all forms of economic inequality. In spite of all these clearly economic issues being discussed, the national conversation couldn’t help remarking on the perceived hippie-ness of Occupy and the confederate undertones of the Tea Party. The protests were at once about common cultural values and economic policies. But as these movements’ influence continues to be felt through this election year, economic issues have seemed to be among the most salient of the issues making this election so “ideological” (as Krugman called it).

May 2011 protests in Madrid, Spain. (Photo from here.)

Meanwhile in the rest of the world, austerity policies and subsequent anti-austerity protests spread across Southern Europe, as the economic downturn reached around the world. Spanish and Portuguese protesters (called “los indignados”) marched across much of the Iberian peninsula, through a very perturbed France, and into the center of the European Union’s administration – Brussels, Belgium. Just as in the United States these sorts of protests were highly visible cultural events as much as political statements – with Portugal nominating a protest song to the massively popular Eurovision musical contest. Protests are only growing in intensity in Greece, so it seems clear that demands for retaining or augmenting redistributive economic policies will only get louder, and perhaps more embedded in popular culture.

Even in less directly affected countries throughout the Middle East, poor economic conditions stimulated mass protests. The original Arab Spring, in Tunisia and Egypt, was explicitly a reaction of the combination of economic as well as political malaise. Likewise, there was an explicitly cultural and artistic component to it, from the street art in the Arab world to the few gallery artists whose careers in other countries were launched by it. The protests elicited creative responses the world over, including reactions by Arabs living in other parts of the world [TW – police violence]:

It seems clear: culturally-resonant demands for economic populism are increasing their influence in much of the world, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to see it, along with other factors and issues, driving electoral choices in the United States and elsewhere in the near future.

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