Occupy Wall Street Response Suddenly Causes Middle Class White People to See Law Enforcement In New Light


At right is a picture of Keith Gessen, editor of the pro-OWS literary journal N+1 and author of All The Sad Young Literary Men, a readable bildungsroman about a gang of hyper-literate belly buttons who just want to be successful, and happy. In case you cannot tell, Gessen is being arrested in this picture, for protesting at Occupy Wall Street. I discovered the image on Twitter, where one can watch the revolution happen in real time. It was captioned thusly: "This is crazy. Skinny intellectuals are no danger." 

It's unlikely that fat and/or stupid protesters are any more a danger than Gessen, but I see the captioner's point. Harmless, if obnoxious people, are getting the crap kicked out of them by cops at Occupy protests across the country. In Berkeley, one officer beat a young female student in the stomach completely unprovoked. In Seattle, police sprayed an inch-thick stream of pepper spray into a crowd, hitting an 86-year-old woman and an expectant mother, among others, square in their faces. Journalists who have never covered protests before, much less spent time on a police beat, are getting clubbed, gassed, and cuffed alongside their unwashed and unruly story subjects. 

The responses of police departments and Democrat-run municipalities is causing a much needed paradigm shift. The Occupy Wall Street movement is composed largely of people who have never before been cuffed to anything but a headboard, if that. Many of them are white, and some of them are probably urban gentrifiers, which means their previous attitudes toward police likely ranged from indifferent to fond. And now those same cops, who used to only screw with blacks and hispanics, are suddenly going after highly educated, well-bred, pale-faces, AKA "skinny intellectuals."

This is not how police are supposed to work seems to be the prevailing sentiment. Also: Some crimes are worse than others, and blocking a street is not one of the bad ones. Which crimes are worse, and why, is a great question for OWS supporters to consider. If getting pepper-sprayed and batoned for the minor crime of blocking traffic is absolutely outrageous, how much crazier is it to knock down someone's door in the middle of the night, shoot his pets, point a gun at his wife, and call child services all because he had some pot in his house? Do OWS participants think they could see themselves protesting no-knock raids, now that they've been inconvenienced for an afternoon? (If not, that's OK. But it's something they should think about next time they want to tell a stranger that they're doing what they're doing for anybody other than themselves.) 

Police militarization and the unchecked power of the state are not issues at the root of OWS. But the debate has shifted somewhat from what OWS should be able to take away from Wall Street, to what the State should not be able to take away from OWS. This is good, because negative rights are good, and also, they are crumbling.

Which is why I'd encourage all of you in OWS (sorry, been doing a lot of that lately) to think about the politicians you elect, and all the ways you've helped increase the size and scope of the state because you couldn't imagine it shoving a boot up your white, well-behaved ass. Think about the public workers who you've supported carte blanche—firemen, teachers, police officers—and their unions, and the power those unions have to shield their members from accountability and reform. Because the political check you cut yesterday paid for the gut-check you received today. 

[Photo of Keith Gessen by Daniel Massey]