The police and their insistence upon their own power being ultimate, no matter the legality of the situation, is troubling.
Naomi Wolf, author and political consultant was attending an event sponsored by the Huffington Post, and ended up getting arrested. She reports:
I went up [to the phalanx of NYPD cops] and asked them why [the OWC folks were moved away from the event]. They replied that they had been informed that the Huffington Post event had a permit that forbade them to use the sidewalk. I knew from my investigative reporting on NYC permits that this was impossible: a private entity cannot lease the public sidewalks; even film crews must allow pedestrian traffic. I asked the police for clarification – no response.
I went over to the sidewalk at issue and identified myself as a NYC citizen and a reporter, and asked to see the permit in question or to locate the source on the police or event side that claimed it forbade citizen access to a public sidewalk. Finally a tall man, who seemed to be with the event, confessed that while it did have a permit, the permit did allow for protest so long as we did not block pedestrian passage.
I thanked him, returned to the protesters, and said: “The permit allows us to walk on the other side of the street if we don’t block access. I am now going to walk on the public sidewalk and not block it. It is legal to do so. Please join me if you wish.” My partner and I then returned to the event-side sidewalk and began to walk peacefully arm in arm, while about 30 or 40 people walked with us in single file, not blocking access.
Then a phalanx of perhaps 40 white-shirted senior officers descended out of seemingly nowhere and, with a megaphone (which was supposedly illegal for citizens to use), one said: “You are unlawfully creating a disruption. You are ordered to disperse.” I approached him peacefully, slowly, gently and respectfully and said: “I am confused. I was told that the permit in question allows us to walk if we don’t block pedestrian access and as you see we are complying with the permit.”
He gave me a look of pure hate. “Are you going to back down?” he shouted. I stood, immobilized1, for a moment. “Are you getting out of my way?” I did not even make a conscious decision not to “fall back” – I simply couldn’t even will myself to do so, because I knew that he was not giving a lawful order and that if I stepped aside it would be not because of the law, which I was following, but as a capitulation to sheer force. In that moment’s hesitation, he said, “OK,” gestured, and my partner and I were surrounded by about 20 officers who pulled our hands behind our backs and cuffed us with plastic handcuffs.
(click here to continue reading Naomi Wolf: How I was arrested at Occupy Wall Street | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.)
and this bit is extremely troubling:
Another scary outcome I discovered is that, when the protesters marched to the first precinct, the whole of Erickson Street was cordoned off – “frozen” they were told, “by Homeland Security”. Obviously if DHS now has powers to simply take over a New York City street because of an arrest for peaceable conduct by a middle-aged writer in an evening gown, we have entered a stage of the closing of America, which is a serious departure from our days as a free republic in which municipalities are governed by police forces.
The police are now telling my supporters that the permit in question gave the event managers “control of the sidewalks”. I have asked to see the permit but still haven’t been provided with it – if such a category now exists, I have never heard of it; that, too, is a serious blow to an open civil society. What did I take away? Just that, unfortunately, my partner and I became exhibit A in a process that I have been warning Americans about since 2007: first they come for the “other” – the “terrorist”, the brown person, the Muslim, the outsider; then they come for you – while you are standing on a sidewalk in evening dress, obeying the law.
- sic, UK spelling [↩]