I wandered through the crowd in shock on Saturday as Occupy Wall Street joined with anti-police groups in Union Square to call the NYPD "murderers" and attempted to undermine law enforcement with accusations of widespread brutality, racism, and corruption.
A variety of anti-police groups including copblock.org, Ignite, and Occupy the Hood assembled alongside a contingent of Wall Street Occupiers to decry a "racist, sexist, homophobic, trans-phobic organization like the NYPD."
It was the 16th national day of protest against police brutality. With only 300 or so people gathered, it was quite small in comparison to the October 15th "Global Day of Rage", but the angry rhetoric against the police was beyond anything I had heard at previous Occupy-affiliated rallies.
So much bile and hatred was directed at the police over the course of the protest that I'm only able to cover some of it here. Of course, when I later read through other media outlet's coverage of the protest, it was clear that some chose to gloss over or completely ignore what was really said by these groups. There seems to be a desire to distance Occupy Wall Street from this event, at least in the public eye.
But it is important that the public know the sort of organizations Occupy Wall Street allies itself with.
Indeed, many members of Occupy were present-- I recognized several organizers from Zuccotti Park among the crowd-- but the tables full of socialist literature and talk of revolution were mostly a sideshow. The main event was an anti-police rally that featured poetry slamming police abuse, families with lost loved ones calling for justice, and organizers calling for retribution against police and revolution in society.
Right off the bat, organizers gave a lecture on how to subvert police authority and what to do when you're arrested. "Ask if you are free to go," one speaker said at the podium, and remember to "treat cops like wild animals, don't make any sudden moves around the NYPD."
All the organizers and lecturers took to the podium to malign law enforcement to the greatest extent possible. One female speaker, who was also a veteran of the Occupy Wall Street protests, said she was "sick of the murder of our friends by the police.... and of their policing our bodies rather than crime."
She also held up a placard of severe beatings she apparently received from domestic violence, and claimed that the inability of police to stop those beatings was also a form of police brutality. The police couldn't stop it, so it was their fault.
You can watch some of her remarks in the video clip here:
A group of people whose family members killed by law enforcement took to the stage and described in graphic detail the abuse and "murder" of their relatives by the NYPD. One woman referred to a "plain-clothes low-life" detective who shot a her son during a scuffle.
But perhaps the most ire of all was directed at the policies of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. A woman at the microphone stated that the "Giuliani dictatorship sent his death squad out to kill innocent people" and engaged in a "campaign to eliminate people of color by any means."
A special appearance in the crowd was made by ex-marine Sgt. Shamar Thomas, who has been heavily covered in the media for his confrontation with NYPD officers on October 15th. On the Global Day of Rage, Sgt. Thomas yelled repeatedly that "there is no honor in this" and "this is not a war zone" to berate NYPD officers. Thomas has since appeared on Current TV as a guest of Keith Olbermann, Russia Today, and has visited the Occupiers in Zuccotti Park.
While Sgt. Thomas is correct-- there is no honor in police brutality-- it wasn't apparent then or now that anyone takes the opposite side of that argument. So the implication seemed to be that police actions taken against Occupy Wall Street should fall under the designation "brutality."
As someone who has stood in the crowd with the Occupiers many times, I've never witnessed a violent act initiated by a police officer, nor seen anyone threatened for exercising their 1st amendment rights. I also know that there are hundreds if not thousands of veterans who also served in Iraq and Afghanistan currently wearing the uniform of the NYPD. In fact, the Police Commissioner himself is a decorated Marine and a Vietnam veteran.
Soon after Sgt. Shamar's appearance, one of the protest organizers took the microphone to tie in the anti-cop crowd with the broader, Occupy Wall Street movement. "The capitalist system is the problem," he said, "revolution is the solution." Shortly after that, he said "You cannot sit by and let the police brutalize and murder people in your name."
Here's a video showing some of those remarks:
The whole affair amounted to a group defamation against the NYPD. Which then pushes us to ask the question: why are the Occupiers and their allies so focused on bashing the police?
Leftists of all stripes take an opportunistic approach to Occupy Wall Street. The gathering this past Saturday was mostly an anti-police mob trying to leverage the Occupy movement to get some extra attention for their cause. But their anti-police message is also critical for the members of Occupy who eventually want to bring down the entire U.S. system.
As we watch protestors in Greece use violent means instead of the political process to express themselves, I am reminded of a core truth in insurgency analysis: watch the cops. If police are targeted and under duress from all sides, their society stands on the precipice of very dark days.
As both the anti-police organizers and the Occupiers know, a showdown near Wall Street with the NYPD could come any day.
Should that happen, the outcome will have ramifications far beyond Zuccotti Park.
[Editor's note: the author previously worked as a counterterrorism analyst for NYPD Intelligence Division.]