Posted by: Mark Gimein on November 15, 2011 at 7:26 PM
“Those who were arrested wanted to be arrested,” New York City’s police commissioner told reporters after today’s police raid on Zuccotti park. It’s hard to know if this is really true: according to the New York Times’ Media Decoder, reporters were herded out of the park, and several of those who stayed were swept up together with demonstrators (probably they didn’t count among those who “wanted to be arrested”).
That the media would be moved aside as the encampment was getting dismantled fits with the story so far. For the Occupy movement Zuccotti Park is a theater in which a performance was put on for the benefit of the media. When a performance ends, a curtain gets drawn over the ruckus on the stage.
A flood of crime and the danger of violence were the city’s justification for clearing the park. The city told the court:
What was before a park with little to no crime has seen approximately 73 misdemeanor and felony complaints and approximately 50 arrests since the occupy movement began, and people who have a known history of violent interactions with the police have been observed in and around the Park.
As a explanation of why the protesters had to be evicted, this is transparently false. It’s disingenuous to cite 73 misdemeanor and felony complaints when those complaints are themselves the product of the police interaction with protesters. The city also claimed in its brief that Zuccotti Park might have “makeshift items that could be used as weapons.” As yet, the weapons in Zuccotti Park haven’t turned up.
This isn’t really a suprise. In actual fact, Zuccotti Park had settled into efficient routine. Just two nights ago, police with no riot gear (some in fact wearing Community Affairs jackets) chatted amicably with protesters.
What was really at issue was that as far as the city was concerned, Zuccotti Park was an eyesore. The threat that it increasingly posed was not to the banks, or to the capitalist system, but to civic decorum.
Zuccotti Park was turning into a long running play, and those are never as good as they are on opening night. What is being billed around the world as a grand battle between the forces of capitalism and those of people power was instead turning into a much duller contest, between a city wanting to keep the streets swept and protesters trying to stay in the view of the cameras.
With Judge Michael Stallman upholding the city’s eviction of the protesters, one act of this play seems to be over. At this point, the New York City protests can really go either way. The police may have shut down the show. Or they may just have extended its run. What comes next depends in part on how able the protesters are to find a new and more mobile venue—and in part on the media’s stomach for pushing in where they are not wanted.
Update: Looking over it, it struck me that this post could be read as a criticism of the journalists at Zuccotti Park. Far from it. They were there, I was not, and many of them did their work under trying circumstances. The willingness of journalists on the scene to go to the story is not really in question. What is worth watching for is whether police pressure on the press will heighten the sense of urgency at media organizations, or make them reluctant to devote their resources to a difficult story.
Photographer: Peter Foley, Bloomberg