Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Battle For Seattle" Police Chief Condemns Brutality, Voices Support For OWS

A fantastic reflective piece appeared on the Nation today, written by former Seattle chief of police Norm Stamper all but voicing support for the Occupy Wall Street movement.  What's really fascinating about his input is that he was the chief of police during the WTO riots in 1999, so his commentary about police brutality is especially riveting.
More than a decade later, the police response to the Occupy movement, most disturbingly visible in Oakland—where scenes resembled a war zone and where a marine remains in serious condition from a police projectile—brings into sharp relief the acute and chronic problems of American law enforcement. Seattle might have served as a cautionary tale, but instead, US police forces have become increasingly militarized, and it’s showing in cities everywhere: the NYPD “white shirt” coating innocent people with pepper spray, the arrests of two student journalists at Occupy Atlanta, the declaration of public property as off-limits and the arrests of protesters for “trespassing.”

The paramilitary bureaucracy and the culture it engenders—a black-and-white world in which police unions serve above all to protect the brotherhood—is worse today than it was in the 1990s. Such agencies inevitably view protesters as the enemy. And young people, poor people and people of color will forever experience the institution as an abusive, militaristic force—not just during demonstrations but every day, in neighborhoods across the country.
Even more groundbreaking is his unabashed admission of his mistakes during the "Battle for Seattle," a riot that has since become a hallmark example of police brutality in America:
My support for a militaristic solution caused all hell to break loose. Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict. The “Battle in Seattle,” as the WTO protests and their aftermath came to be known, was a huge setback—for the protesters, my cops, the community.
I've noted that the shadow of WTO seems to hang over the Occupy Seattle movement.  I spoke to a police officer about the tactics used on protesters at OS and he agreed that the SPD learned many valuable lessons in '99 that are applied today.  Perhaps police departments in NYC and Oakland would do well to learn as Norm Stamper has-- police brutality helps no-one, especially when oppressing a movement that represents the 99%'s interests.

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