Someone is making demands on behalf of the Occupy movement. Suppressing Protest: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street, a report prepared by a coalition of legal scholars and human rights activists, is calling for reform and redress in response to the policing of Occupy protests across the country. The report focuses on New York City but promises to be the first in a series. Beginning in January 2012, the authors of the nearly 200-page report rigorously documented what Occupiers and sympathizers have known for almost a year now—not only is the policing of the movement extreme, brutal, and often illegal, it’s incoherent. Laws are enforced arbitrarily, rules are invented and dispensed with. It has often seemed that it’s not possible to follow the laws, as they have become malleable for the purpose of policing. Suppressing Protest explains exactly how and in what ways this is true, and what might be done about it.
The Occupy movement has notoriously eschewed leaders, hierarchical structures, and conventional organizational strategies. Occupiers march without permits, deliver concomitant press releases, and refuse to make the concessions that large groups of people generally make (e.g. voting by majority rule). This means eschewing certain markers of institutional legitimacy—nonprofit status, protest permits, clear legal status—and state authorities have taken advance of this lack of institutional legitimacy. Police forces with governmental authority and an array of sophisticated weapons have committed violence against a group that consistently struggles to seek redress.
Suppressing Protest‘s argument is not pro-Occupy and explicitly is not anti-policing: it commends police for instances of exemplary behavior. But the report does make clear that the tentacular, anarchist, pacifist strategies of the movement, difficult to police as they may be, do not legally or morally justify the police responses.
Whether the demands made in Suppressing Protest can or will be met (they include independent oversight and review of protest policing and prosecution of officers who violated human rights), they have been articulated with unprecedented clarity and thoroughness. The report documents incidents of police brutality and instances in which members of the press and legal observers were detained or arrested. It treats important questions about public space, surveillance, containment and dispersal tactics, and police oversight and transparency. It asks for clear, concrete changes. A document like this, prepared by many hands and representing many voices, is radical, hopeful, and—as the one-year anniversary of the Occupy movement approaches—extremely timely. We encourage you to read it and circulate it far and wide.
—Eli Schmitt (for the Occupy! Gazette)