In the 1960s, as protests for Civil Rights and/or against the Viet Nam war continued to grow and multiply despite attempts by the police and other law enforcement agencies to stop them, police tactics became more and more repressive and violent.
In fact, that's when the police became militarized, with so-called S.W.A.T. teams all armored up and weaponized on a level rarely seen in this country (though it also happened during strikes and other labor protests in the 1930s and throughout USA history whenever the interests of the "trusts"—i.e. corporations—were threatened by public protest).
We're seeing it again in the police brutality being used against protesters and reporters and observers and even just passersby (as with the innocent bystander who was seriously injured in Oakland last week, etc.) and last night at the original Occupy Wall Street in what was known as "Liberty Plaza" (until it was taken over by a corporation and named for one of the corporation's wealthy big shots).
It's ironic that the rightwing media machine and its mouthpieces (including their political "leaders"—elected or not) that are always going on about "freedom" and "liberty" (though usually unwilling to lay THEIR lives on the line for those concepts, letting the poor and deprived and needy among our youth do that for them) cannot stand to see people actually "demonstrating" those concepts by gathering to protest injustice and demand their rights.
When anyone left of Dick Cheney presumes their Constitutional right to publicly gather and protest, the rightwingers not only attack them for doing that but infiltrate their protests with provocateurs whose job it is to discredit the actions of the protesters while the rightwing media discredit the motives of the protesters.
This coordinated attack on one of our basic freedoms has been happening since the beginning of The Occupy Wall Street movement (but never occurred during Tea Party rallies, despite people carrying guns and being noisy and belligerent and even physical against those who disagreed with their ideas).
The first attempt to discredit the protests was to mark the protesters as disaffected young people who had no idea what they were protesting against or for. That was ridiculous on its face (I took part one day, as I've written, and saw many white haired folks and businessmen in suits and professors and teachers and even off duty cops and firemen etc.).
Then when the movement began obviously gathering supporters across the spectrum, the right—and the media it manipulates so easily—started criticizing the protests for "disturbing the peace" in some way, being too unhygienic or noisy or harboring criminals etc. and thus (from the rightwing perspective) justifying police intervention, no matter how violent.
The Oakland police were the first to move to all out militarization, and if they hadn't inadvertently seriously injured an Iraq Vet and then tried to keep people from helping him, which was caught on camera, they'd have probably gotten away with it (not from the perspective of the protesters and their supporters, including me, but in terms of media attention).
Other local governments—state and county and municipal—have gone the route of allowing the protests to continue until they can cook up the "legal" justification for repressing them, often violently. As in so-called "Zucotti Park" last night.
It is no accident that news helicopters were denied air space over the police action last night at the Wall Street Occupation in Manhattan, and that reporters were kept from getting close enough to take photos or be eyewitnesses to any police brutality, or were roughed up by some cops themselves.
I come from a clan in which there's always been police officers, right from the progenitor of the clan, my Irish peasant immigrant grandfather. So I know firsthand that there truly are "good cops" and "bad cops" and most police do not enjoy getting physical, let alone violent.
There were police last night who didn't rough up reporters, or protesters and there were those who did. But behind their actions are not just politicians but an array of powerful forces consciously or unconsciously doing the bidding of corporate powers and those whose wealth is dependent on those corporate powers.
Why should citizens not be allowed to gather in public and protest and stay as long as they like? Many in the media and among our citizens were impressed with the courage and lasting power of the protesters in "Liberty" Square in Cairo last year, despite police efforts to not just remove them but intimidate them and squash the protest. And they didn't have to contend with the cold!
The excuse is always that it's "disruptive" in whatever ways will most disgust the general public so that police action seems justified. But when someone makes too much noise or is un-hygenic or even commits a crime in your neighborhood, the police don't move in and remove you and your neighbors or destroy your homes.
It's not even ironic that people who supposedly live near Zucotti Park have complained about the noise from drumming. First of all most apartments in those kind of high rises don't even have windows that open, especially on the kind of chilly nights we've been having recently. And the noise from the construction at the nearby World Trade Center memorial and area is radically louder than any drumming (and we know the drumming doesn't go on at night because protesters are sleeping then).
What the authorities dread is the development of "Hoovervilles"—the kind of squatting communities that spontaneously appeared during The Great Depression around the country, like in Central Park and along the rivers in Manhattan (see MY MAN GODFREY among other films from the 'thirties) and expanded before the police, sometimes with the help of military troops, could remove them.
Tahrir Square in Cairo were lauded as heroes among many in the U.S. and the media), in which case (actual crimes) the police can do actual "police" work—not create-a-riot or military action—and find our who committed the crime and arrest them.
The most ridiculous part of all this was that Bloomberg, NYC's mayor, defended last night's action by saying the tents and sleeping bags were making it so "the public" (as if the protesters are somehow "the private"?) couldn't use the park. But I was there on the day when the crowds were the largest, according to all news reports and the police, and yet me and my then thirteen-year-old son and his mother and her younger sister and her boyfriend strolled around the park without any problems. The only problems were the rogue cops who were obviously itching to smack us down for daring to go against their bosses or their own private prejudices or politics.
And now—hey Bloomberg!—the park's been closed all day to the protesters AND THE PUBLIC(!) protected by a phalanx of cops in riot gear. Where are all the defenders of the Constitution now? (Protesting the closing of the park, actually.)
Where this militarization of the police and repression of protesters and demonstrators led in the 1960s and '70s was to calling in the National Guard and the four deaths of student protesters at Kent State (where even if rocks were thrown, although that's still debatable, being shot to death is not the reasoned or democratic response).
And where that led the protesters was the extreme radicalization of some of them who came to believe Mao's dictum that "power comes out of the barrel of a gun." I argued against that, because I don't believe it's ultimately true. But having the police use military tactics to deal with citizen protesters obviously can, and sometimes does, lead to some protesters becoming militarized themselves.
But more often agent provocateurs working for the police or corporations etc. encourage and instigate violence from protesters in response to violence from the police, to thus justify total repression of the protesters and their cause. And the agents' actions create paranoia among the protesters because it is unclear who is really protesting and who is there only to stir up trouble to discredit the protest.
Because of the Internet and the generally speedier transmission of images and words these days, what took the Civil Rights and Anti-War protests many years to evolve through stages of protest—and reactions from the authorities in the form of police actions—is occurring in a matter of only months for this movement. I'm hoping that doesn't mean that violence will escalate equally rapidly.
In fact I'm hoping the protests can remain non-violent like the early Civil Rights protests did, because the moral authority inherent in that approach won over many more supporters than when the protests turned violent in response to police violence.