An Open Letter to the Men and Women of the New York City Police Department

To the Men and Women of the New York City Police Department:

Last night, we learned that because of the complaints of Brookfield Properties, the company that owns Zuccotti Park, Mayor Bloomberg has ordered the Occupy Wall Street protesters to remove themselves and their supplies from the Park at 7 AM tomorrow. If the protesters don’t leave, Bloomberg likely will order you and your colleagues to forcibly remove and arrest the men and women who have come there to protest the policies, politicians, and financial leaders responsible for the continuing economic crisis. As concerned citizens, we ask you not to follow this order.

Bloomberg and Brookfield Properties claim that the protesters must be removed in order to clean the Park. Anytime thousands of people assemble in a small space, it is not easy to keep things neat. The Occupy Wall Street protesters, however, have shown their desire to maintain a safe and sanitary environment. They have organized sanitation and medical teams to remove trash, clean blankets and sleeping bags, and treat the sick and injured. They also have committed themselves to a sober, nonviolent, and respectful public assembly. As in any crowd, there are some who make the lives of police personnel harder than they ought to be. But as the police assigned to the Park over the last month can attest, the vast majority of protesters are peaceful, passionate, and good-humored. They have come to the park not to wreck property or insult hardworking citizens. They have come to the park because they believe in a fair shake, and know they haven’t gotten it.

Mayor Bloomberg and Brookfield Properties claim that the Occupy Wall Street protest will be able to continue—only without food, medicine, or shelter—after the Park is clean. This is not true. The purpose of the Occupy Wall Street protest is to secure a public space at the center of the American financial system in which ordinary Americans can speak and be heard. When 20,000 protesters marched on Wall Street in May, nobody listened. The reason why Occupy Wall Street has attracted so much attention and gained the support of workers and unions across the nation is because it has held its ground. Unlike the national politicians who caved to the financial elites when they demanded special treatment and the local politicians who caved to a billionaire mayor when he wanted another term, the Occupy Wall Street protesters have not caved. But without food, medicine, and shelter, the protesters will not be able to continue their peaceful assembly.

American citizens have a right to assemble in public in order to communicate with one another and with their elected leaders. The right to public assembly is not a right to assemble for a second, or an hour, or a day. As Americans, we have a right to assemble until we are satisfied that our voices have been heard, and that our leaders are sustaining, not destroying, our safety and our livelihoods.

Across the country, political leaders have cut public services and laid off public employees, including police, because of the economic crisis that has engulfed us. That crisis is not ending anytime soon. Unemployment is at about 9 percent and will remain there for some time—unless another recession hits, in which case it will continue to rise, putting further strain on public services and dooming an entire generation of workers and their families to a lifetime of economic uncertainty. The people who are threatened by this ongoing crisis are not strangers to the New York Police Department. They are your friends and neighbors, your children and your parents.

Last winter, when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker tried to crush organized labor, the police realized that Walker was not their friend, even though he tried to buy them off. Tracy Fuller, the executive board president of the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association, wrote: “I specifically regret the endorsement of the Wisconsin Trooper’s Association for Gov. Scott Walker. I regret the governor’s decision to ‘endorse’ the troopers and inspectors of the Wisconsin State Patrol. I regret being the recipient of any of the perceived benefits . . . I think everyone’s job and career is just as significant as the others. Everyone’s family is just as valuable as mine.” In New York City as in Wisconsin, a collapsing economy and the politicians who feed it with short-term austerity measures imperil us all.

Mayor Bloomberg and Brookfield Properties do not want to rid Zuccotti Park of dirt. They want to rid it of the Americans who have assembled there to peacefully protest the way people like Governor Walker, Mayor Bloomberg, and the owners of Brookfield Properties treat their fellow citizens. We understand that as the police of New York City you have jobs to do and families to support. We understand that you respect the law. We respect the law, too. But at times in American history, the law has been shamefully used by those in power to suppress the voices of peaceful Americans. An order to disperse the Occupy Wall Street protesters is an order to suppress their voices and their vision of a fairer America. The Mayor seeks to silence thousands of Americans in order to enforce the property rights of a wealthy few. There is no better example of the kind of moral corruption that has led thousands of Americans to come to Zuccotti Park. Every religion, every ethical code, recognizes that there are times when the commands of self-interested officials are not worthy of obedience. Tomorrow morning is such a time. We appeal to your conscience as men and women and to your sense of justice as American citizens. If you are ordered to disperse the Occupy Wall Street protesters, please refuse.

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