The N.Y.P.D. descended on the park with deafening military-grade LRAD noise canons and several stadiums’ worth of blinding Klieg lights, and while they worked, they drove journalists steadily back further and further from their area of operations. (Even the airspace over southern Manhattan was closed during the raid to prevent news helicopters from filming, making a mockery of claims, by the mayor and the police, that they were keeping reporters at bay for their own safety.) A number of journalists who attempted to stand their ground, identifying themselves to the police and insisting on their long-established legal right to work, were treated like protesters—roughed up, shoved, put in choke holds, pepper-sprayed, and otherwise manhandled, and at least seven reporters (including four who’d sought refuge in a church, and one from the New York Post, which has been calling for such a police operation against O.W.S. for weeks) were among the nearly two hundred and fifty people arrested during the crackdown. So was a City Councilman, Ydanis Rodriguez, who was taken into custody blocks from the park, and bloodied in the process.
The paramilitary-style eviction of O.W.S. from Zuccotti park was not our Guernica; it wasn’t our Tiananmen Square, nor even our Tahrir Square—as Nicholas Kristof of the Times, and many other commentators not so firmly in the media mainstream, have suggested. Thankfully, the Occupy encampments across America, and the state power arrayed against them did not represent anything like the forces of revolution or of oppression that we’ve seen in those foreign uprisings. That is precisely what makes the police violence that has become such a common spectacle so troubling: protest is an essential American democratic tradition, and you don’t have to support the protesters (or oppose the dismantling of their camps) to condemn its forcible stifling.
Of course there have been piecemeal incidents of violent criminality (vandalism and assault) by protesters; and, in confrontations with police, some have fought back. But the conduct of the overwhelming majority of Occupy activists has been highly disciplined in its adherence to the rigors of nonviolent civil disobedience. So why have we had to watch police—who are our employees, operating in our name— slamming and dragging unresisting men on the street, kneeling heavily on people’s heads while binding their wrists too tightly in flexicuffs, and pepper-spraying already captive women in New York; billy-clubbing peaceable demonstrators and dragging them brutally around by their hair when they offer their wrists to be arrested in Berkeley; and tear-gassing and flash-banging them at Occupy Oakland? […]
In a democracy, a mayor who believes he can shut down the press at will is not defending public safety; and a mayor who believes the police can be unleashed to manhandle the citizenry without answering for it cannot claim to be on the side of law or order.