i’ll cut the author some slack for bringing up the subject of police molesting OWS protesters, but these people seriously have no idea what they’re up against.
For many, the thought of police officials ordering or condoning sexual assault—even if just through a nod or a wink—seems so shocking that absolute proof would be required. But is it really so out of character? As Naomi Wolf has recently reminded us, the US security apparatus has long “used sexual humiliation as a tool of control.” Any experienced activist is aware of the delight police officers so often take in explaining just how certainly they will be raped if placed in prison. Strip searches—which the Supreme Court has recently ruled can be deployed against any citizen held for so much as a traffic violation—are often deployed as a tool of humiliation and punishment. And one need hardly remark on well-documented practices at Guantanamo, Bagram, or Abu Ghraib.
Why target women in particular? No doubt it’s partly simply the logic of the bully, to brutalize those you think are weak, and more easily traumatized. But another reason is, almost certainly, the hope of provoking violent reactions on the part of male protestors. I myself well remember a police tactic I observed more than once during the World Economic Forum demonstrations in New York in 2002: a plainclothes officer would tackle a young female marcher, without announcing of who they were, and when one or two men would gallantly try to come to her assistance, uniforms would rush in and arrest them for “assaulting an officer.” The logic makes perfect sense to someone with military background. Soldiers who oppose allowing a combat role for women almost invariably say they do so not because they are afraid women would not behave effectively in battle, but because they are afraid men would not behave effectively in battle if women were present—that is, that they would become so obsessed with the possibility of women in their unit being captured and sexually assaulted that they would behave irrationally. If the police were trying to provoke a violent reaction on the part of studiously non-violent protestors, as a way of justifying even greater brutality and felony charges, this would clearly be the most effective means of doing so.
There’s a good deal of anecdotal evidence that would tend to confirm that this is exactly what they are trying to do. One of the most peculiar incidents took place on a recent march in New York where police seem to have simulated such an assault, arresting a young women who most activists later concluded was probably an undercover officer (no one had seen her before or has seen her since), then ostentatiously groping her as she was handcuffed. Reportedly, several male protestors had to physically restrained (by other protestors) from charging in to help her.
Why is all this not a national story? Back in September, when the now famous Tony Bologna arbitrarily maced several young women engaged in peaceful protest, the event became a national news story. In March, even while we were still hearing heated debates over a single incident of window-breaking that may or may not have been by an OWS activist in Oakland four months earlier, no one seems to have paid any significant attention to the first major incident of window-breaking in New York—even though the window was broken, by police, apparently, using a non-violent protestors’ head!
I suspect one reason so many shy away from confronting the obvious is because it raises extremely troubling questions about the role of police in American society. Most middle class Americans see the primary role of police as maintaining public order and safety. Instances when police are clearly trying to foment violence and disorder for political purposes so fly in the face of everything we have been taught that our instinct is to tell ourselves it isn’t happening: there must have been some provocation, or else, it must have just been individual rogue cops. Certainly not something ordered by the highest echelons. But here we have to remember the police are an extremely top-down, centralized organization. Uniformed officers simply cannot behave in ways that flagrantly defy the law, in full public view, on an ongoing basis, without having at least tacit approval from those above.
A few weeks ago I was with a few companions from Occupy Wall Street in Union Square when an old friend — I’ll call her Eileen — passed through, her hand in a cast.
“What happened to you?” I asked.
“Oh, this?” she held it up. “I was in Liberty Park on the 17th [the Six Month Anniversary of the Occupation]. When the cops were pushing us out the park, one of them yanked at my breast.”
“Again?” someone said.
We had all been hearing stories like this. In fact, there had been continual reports of police officers groping women during the nightly evictions from Union Square itself over the previous two weeks.
“Yeah so I screamed at the guy, I said, ‘you grabbed my boob! what are you, some kind of fucking pervert?’ So they took me behind the lines and broke my wrists.”
Actually, she quickly clarified, only one wrist was literally broken. She proceeded to launch into a careful, well-nigh clinical blow-by-blow description of what had happened. An experienced activist, she knew to go limp when police seized her, and how to do nothing that could possibly be described as resisting arrest. Police dragged her, partly by the hair, behind their lines and threw her to the ground, periodically shouting “stop resisting!” as she shouted back “I’m not resisting!” At one point though, she said, she did tell them her glasses had fallen to the sidewalk next to her, and announced she was going to reach over to retrieve them. That apparently gave them all the excuse they needed. One seized her right arm and bent her wrist backwards in what she said appeared to be some kind of marshal-arts move, leaving it not broken, but seriously damaged. “I don’t know exactly what they did to my left wrist—at that point I was too busy screaming at the top of my lungs in pain. But they broke it. After that they put me in plastic cuffs, as tightly as they possibly could, and wouldn’t loosen them for at least an hour no matter how loud I screamed or how much the other prisoners begged them to help me. For a while everyone in the arrest van was chanting ‘take them off, take them off’ but they just ignored them…”