Verbal violence at NYC Occupy Wall Street
Recently I spent time with some of my favorite people in one of my favorite groups -- Veterans for Peace -- as one of the members of their newly formed Peace Teams. I am an associate member of VFP as a non-veteran. I witness with and support this group because they do some of the best gospel witness for peace and justice in the country, although they would not put it in those terms.
We were asked to be part of the march against the NYPD brutality at the March 17 resurgence of Occupy Wall Street (OWS). While trying to set up the spring occupy, 70+ people were arrested and seven nonviolent OWS people were handled and beaten so badly they had to go to the hospital. That coupled with the recent revelations that the NYPD has been spying on any and all Muslims, has had a policy of “stop and search” for people of color (especially men) and recent murder of Trayvon Martin and the cover up by the local police department -- the people felt it was time to rally against this misuse of force.
As part of the VFP Peace Team, we were there to be a buffer between the demonstrators and the police and to work with the police to use nonviolent responses to protesters, cutting down on the violence and injuries. We had literally pledged to put our bodies between the police and the OWS people and negotiate from there. My negotiation was going to be to try to talk to the officers about what was going to happen when corporate America came after their pensions -- which I predict to be in the near future -- and encourage them to stand with OWS.
It was a scary prospect, but in all of this I found some signs of hope; the police were not dressed in riot gear (“robo cops” we call them). So that starts off things with less visual intimidation providing more relaxed atmosphere which in turn leave more emotional energy for clear and calm thinking and actions. Second, there were no mass beatings and/or arrests.
What did really bother me was the verbal violence (also a misuse of force) of some of the marchers I was trying to protect. To the mounted police they were yelling, “Got those animals off those horses!” and there were other anti-police chants that I found truly offensive. This is no way win them over. Granted there are some officers who are looking to “pick a fight” so to speak but the vast majority of the officers I've dealt with have been sympathetic to antiwar values.
Fr. Daniel Berrigan once said that the first victims of an unjust law are the people who have to enforce it. I have seen that to be largely true and my heart goes out to the officers who have had to arrest, cuff and haul me off to jail. I often remember them in prayer and try to be tender with them when in custody.
I didn't know quite how to handle the situation. And I am still wrestling with it. One of my fellow VFP Peace Team members would speak to the officers saying, “Peace be with you.” I am going to do that next time as well as let the officers know I am appalled by that kind of behavior, but I also think we need to do a better job of bringing up this new generation of activists.
I did get to meet and thank one of my heroes, retired Captain Ray Lewis of the Chicago Police Department, who was arrested last year in uniform supporting OWS. He was holding a sign inviting people to see the film “Inside Job,” which depicts how Wall Street, with the help of the government (Obama is included), robbed the middle class and the poor blind.
If you want to know a harsh truth about our government and where OWS came from, you can watch it HERE.