What happened to OWS?

Friday October 12, 2012

That’s a question many of us have asked when it fizzled out following months of successful protests around the country that began in October 2011.

David Dietz, writing for policymic.com, said it was a failure of anyone to assume leadership of the movement.

"The group’s noble and rather democratic goals of allowing the occupy movement to be a big tent for all gripes and grievances quickly diluted its founding anti-corporatocrisy message," wrote Dietz. "In the process, the movement of the 99 percent lost control of its image and turned large numbers of people off by playing to the conservatives’ stereotype of an unorganized, incompetent and whiny group of pseudo radicals."

But was it really a failure of leadership? Or was there something more insidious going on?

According to Michael Greenberg, who has been writing about the movement for the New York Review of Books, what really happened to Occupy Wall Street was the New York City Police Department’s Intelligence Division.

Intel, which was formed after Sept. 11, 2001, has since built "an active, fully staffed spying unit devoted to keeping track of the city’s large Muslim community," wrote Greenberg.

Though federal and local law enforcement agencies have revealed 14 plots that have either failed or been foiled since September 11, no one is really sure how much the NYPD’s Intel Division was involved in those investigations, wrote Greenberg.

What is known for sure is that Intel has initiated investigations and taken sole credit for arrests involving three separate potential attacks.

"A common thread in all three cases has been the mental instability and subnormal intellectual capacities of the alleged terrorists," wrote Greenberg. "Each involved a sting operation and relied almost entirely on the testimony of a paid undercover informant. Mentally unstable people may be capable of great harm and paid informants may help detect serious crimes."

Only one of those cases has made it to federal court, by the way.

What Intel has been especially effective at is disrupting the Occupy Wall Street movement, wrote Greenberg.

Gideon Oliver, president of the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which, in partnership with the Legal Aid Society, has been providing free counsel to OWS arrestees, told Greenberg that in criminal court he and others have increasingly seen signs that peaceful political activists are landing on terrorist watch lists.

In one case, in which a well-known OWS participant went to court for trespassing, evidence revealed the activist had been under surveillance and singled out for arrest, wrote Greenberg.

In another case, a filmmaker who was documenting OWS was the subject of police stakeouts at her home. The officers photographed visitors who came to the filmmaker’s home, wrote Greenberg

"On November 16 I saw (a visitor) attacked by at least five police officers while standing idly during a protest in Duarte Square," wrote Greenberg. "Officers surrounded him, beat him, and detained him without provocation or cause. He was charged with disorderly conduct."

A day later, two days after Zuccotti Park had been cleared by police, an OWS organizer and three others were buying coffee at a bodega when they were surrounded by 30 police officers.

"The four were arrested, brought to a police station ... and strip-searched while their request for lawyers was ignored," wrote Greenberg. "They were eventually charged with obstructing governmental administration, a wide-ranging, highly general misdemeanor that criminalizes any act that ‘prevents a civil servant from performing an official function.’"

The charges were eventually dropped, but the arrests prevented them from participating in the Nov. 17 protest.

"I felt like I had been arrested for a thought crime," said one of those arrested.

"They know where we hang out," one activist told Greenberg, "the private places where we now have to meet, our travel history. It feels like they know everything about us."

Another, who was arrested on March 17 at a peaceful protest marking the six-month anniversary of OWS, was held for 50 hours before being formally charged for resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, and obstruction of government administration, wrote Greenberg. She eventually pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and paid a fine of $120.

But as if that wasn’t humiliating enough, wrote Greenberg, "The day before Occupy’s 2012 May Day Demonstration, a new, more foolproof pretext for entering private homes was employed: ‘Warrant squads’ would arrive for unanswered summonses involving the most minor violations -- summonses roughly equivalent in severity to traffic infringements, such as, in one case, an open-container violation -- having an open can of beer or spirits on the street -- that was five years old."

On April 30, two other activists were visited by police, one of whom was arrested for a years-old summons for public urination and then held in a jail cell for 13 hours, wrote Greenberg.

"People fear that detectives are following them around," Gideon Oliver told Greenberg. "They panic. It’s a movement-dismantling tactic."

New Yorkers have become complicit in these tactics, wrote Greenberg, because they are convinced Intel is doing the job of protecting them from another Sept. 11.

But, he wrote, "At what point does justification of the ‘we are doing what we must to protect you’ line lose its plausibility and become a rote explanation for rampant civil rights violations with virtually no compensating public benefits that have been adequately explained to the public?"

The New York Police Department has basically formed a municipal CIA, wrote Greenberg, "and the cost to civil liberties, will probably not be revealed for many years, if they are ever fully known at all. By then, the damage may be irreversible. And yet it is far from clear whether any innocent lives will have been saved."

The result?

"In the space of seven months a galvanizing national protest movement had dwindled to the status of a policing problem before disappearing almost entirely from public view," wrote Greenberg.

It’s a sad state of affairs that a unit developed to prevent terrorist attacks against the greatest city in the world is now empowered to do what it must to stop a popular uprising against the very forces that brought the world’s economy to its knees. Occupy Wall Street was asking people to question the plutocracy that obviously controls the reins of power in New York City, the United States and around the globe.

Is it any wonder those shadowy figures wanted to stop the movement in its tracks before any real change came about? The best way to put out a fire is to take away the tinder, and the NYPD’s Intelligence Division evidently became the plutocracy’s firefighters.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions