Subject: [SocialistWorker.org] When cauliflower becomes a crime
View original article here:
======== WHEN CAULIFLOWER BECOMES A CRIME ====================================
Don Lash talks about the realities of policing in New York City's poorest
January 5, 2012
TWO RECENT demonstrations in the Bronx present a study in contrasts.
On the morning of Saturday, December 3, Occupy the Bronx held a General
Assembly at the site of the Morning Glory Community Garden in the Mott Haven
section of the Bronx. Or rather, they gathered at what had been the site of
Morning Glory until it was razed by the city's Department of Housing
Preservation and Development (HPD), and padlocked by the New York Police
Department (NYPD) to enable the city to sell it off for development.
The plan was to combine the General Assembly with a celebration of what
Morning Glory had been--a successful effort to convert a vacant lot into a
source of nutritious food and space for community-building in a neighborhood
in need of both.
Prior to the establishment of Morning Glory by neighborhood residents with no
official sanction from the city, the site was vacant for decades and had
become a noxious dumping ground. The gardeners, including high school
students, cleaned up the property and planted vegetables, herbs and fruit,
which they distributed to the neighborhood.
At the event, Occupy the Bronx wanted to offer food and the opportunity to
speak out about whether it made sense for the HPD and NYPD to turn Morning
Glory back into a vacant lot, and about who would benefit from turning the
site over to a private developer to build retail space and "affordable"
Early arrivals to the General Assembly found a sizable contingent of NYPD
officers waiting for them. They were told that they couldn't set up for a
stationary event because that would be "obstructing the sidewalk." The
sidewalk in question is a wide, windswept open space at a five-way
intersection. A YouTube video of the event  shows cops gesturing at an
empty expanse of concrete.
Had there been any pedestrian traffic, it would not have been impeded--but
even so, there were no passersby unconnected with the event. The police began
making arrests as soon as attendees began pointing that out. Other attendees,
at that point still outnumbered by police, began a march around the padlocked
garden. Footage caught a commanding officer instructing his subordinates to
"take them" as soon as they stopped. In all, five arrests were made,
including of a journalist attempting to interview participants .
The baseless arrests occurred within sight of a crew from the local cable
news channel, News 12. That the police have little to fear from mainstream
media scrutiny was demonstrated by News 12's coverage.
Despite its own reporter having been harassed, with an interview being
interrupted by an officer demanding to see her identification, and despite
having captured footage showing the absurdity of the NYPD's claims about
pedestrian obstruction, News 12 led its report with the police account,
obscuring truth in the name of "objectivity."
Participants then marched to the 40th Precinct and rallied across the street,
their numbers swelled by passersby and a contingent from New Yorkers Against
Gun Violence. Eventually, the five arrestees were given Desk Appearance
tickets and released. Although they were instructed not to rejoin their
comrades across the street, most did so.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
AT A regular meeting of a Community Board committee attended by the precinct
commander on December 7, Occupy the Bronx confronted the police over the
arrests, offering to show the board members footage that demonstrated the
absurdity of the charges. No one took them up on the offer. The precinct
commander responded only by instructing Occupy the Bronx to apply for permits
for future events.
Revealingly, a "community affairs" officer in attendance volunteered that the
large police presence awaiting the attendees resulted from the fact that the
Occupy the Bronx group was known to the officers from a previous event--even
though the prior event had not included any criminal behavior or threat to
public order. It was apparent that the show of force and quick arrests were
planned to surprise and intimidate the movement.
By way of contrast, a larger demonstration occurred in the Bronx on October
28. Hundreds of unpermitted demonstrators converged on the Bronx County
Courthouse during rush hour, blocking sidewalks and taking over corridors
within the courthouse. Journalists were blocked from entering a courtroom,
and in some cases physically restrained. Obscenities were shouted at people
going to work in the courthouse and a court official trying to restore order.
No arrests were made, and no force was used against the demonstrators.
Lest the reader assume that there had been a radical revision of the NYPD's
attitude toward the right of assembly and protest in the short period between
these events, it should be noted that the protesters on October 28 were
off-duty police officers, angered by the indictment of 16 of their
colleagues, including two from the 40th Precinct, on official corruption
charges arising out of a "ticket-fixing" scandal.
Holding signs printed by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, some
reading, "It's a Courtesy, Not a Crime," the cops were disputing the right of
the district attorney to prosecute officers for fixing tickets received by
friends and family of fellow officers.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelley said he didn't know the details about the
officers' behavior at the courthouse, but that it was "understandable" that
officers would rally at a "time of trouble."
When accounts emerged that officers reportedly shouted insults at people
lined up at the welfare benefit center across the street, a spokesman hastily
added that the commissioner didn't approve of such conduct.
Of course, distancing the department's leadership from expressions of racism
is just another day at the office for a NYPD spokesperson. In recent months,
wiretapped conversations in the ticket-fixing case captured PBA officials
casually using racial slurs, and a Facebook group was created featuring
officers' complaints about being assigned to the West Indian Day Parade in
Brooklyn . Postings included references to parade duty as "ghetto
training" among "savages" and "zoo animals," and a recommendation that a bomb
be dropped to wipe out all the parade-goers.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THE CONTRAST between the two events illustrates a number of realities about
policing in the Bronx--the city's poorest borough. The arrest of a
journalist--a woman of color--barely a week after the NYPD issued directives
to avoid the arrest of journalists covering demonstrations is an indication
that different rules apply in the Bronx.
Meanwhile, when off-duty officers take over a public building, insult Bronx
residents and bully the media, there is neither condemnation nor
accountability. There is no contradiction, however. Both are examples of the
police making sure the community knows who the real occupiers are.
The precinct commander's "helpful" suggestion that permits be obtained was
simply a one-man game of "good cop/bad bop." The "bad cop" will repress
assembly and speech on a transparently false pretext, while the "good cop"
promises a permit if Occupy the Bronx will negotiate with the police over
just how much freedom it will be allowed.
The Occupy movement is beginning to spread to communities subjected to the
most repressive police conduct. The attempts to intimidate and chill the
movement may become more blatant and repressive, especially if authorities
can confront small groups with overwhelming numbers.
Police in Bronx neighborhoods, as in similar communities throughout the
nation, are not going to loosen their grip unless the movement confronts and
exposes the bullying in every forum available. Planning for events will have
to ensure that participants are not isolated and outnumbered by police, and
that a rapid response--such as the unplanned rally outside the precinct--is
always a possibility.
More fundamentally, the behavior of the police toward Occupy the Bronx should
lend some clarity to the ongoing debate about whether the police are part of
the "99 percent." Obviously, if class background and household income are
considered in a vacuum, it's reasonable to expect the police to identify with
the working class and its expressions of outrage over inequality, injustice
and the oppression of the 1 percent. But who the police are as individuals
shouldn't blind us to what they do in their official capacities. Nor should
we ignore the expressions of racism and contempt.
Official repression, lawless behavior and poorly concealed racism are
elements of a consistent pattern by the police, and are necessary to the
police "occupation" of communities of color.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Published by the International Socialist Organization. Material on this Web
site is licensed by SocialistWorker.org, under a Creative Commons (by-nc-nd
3.0) license, except for articles that are republished with permission.
Readers are welcome to share and use material belonging to this site for
non-commercial purposes, as long as they are attributed to the author and
Sign up for e-mail alerts from SocialistWorker.org.
Published by the International Socialist Organization