Hayley Mills from an article in Vegetarian Times (November 1985). Photograph by Roger Whitaker.
Watching and reading about the Occupy Wall Street protests and the out of proportion responses initially left me having trouble reconciling the image of heroic police officers I maintain with the violent thugs that seem to be acting to protect the status quo of the powerful.
But that confusion did not last long. What I quickly realized was that the authorities acting in brutish ways are not new. It was just new to me. There exists in America entire cultures that for them the authorities sweeping in and busting their skulls is just same stuff, different day. There are communities in every city that rarely or never observe an heroic action, a helpful hand or someone who promises to make it all better. To the disenfranchised “To Protect and To Serve” means nothing except state-sponsored graffiti on official cars and vans.
It was by accident of birth and economic status that I was surprised the local governments and their foot soldiers would douse protestors with chemicals, arrest them without cause or as a flimsy excuse for convenience to teach the uppity a lesson and inflict injuries. It was me being a Caucasian, middle-class male that afforded me the opportunity to be insulated from the atrocities and violation of rights many others are victim to on a daily basis.
I should have known better. When I was in The Biz many years ago I made it a point to not issue citations to the economically challenged dude operating a rusted-out Chevy if I couldn’t write a ticket to the wealthy guy driving a Porsche for the same offense. I knew position had privileges but I tried to make things a bit more equal. I was never in a situation to witness or be a part of the kind of crack-down Law Enforcement is currently inflicting on peaceful activists.
The dismay, shock and anger so many are now expressing is probably also an eye-opening experience. This generation is removed from the repercussions of crossing the bosses and monkey-wrenching their plans. The scale of what is going on today with Occupy Wall Street is similar in scope, if not message, to the 1960s Peace and Civil Rights movements. The practices of the Occupy movement are something that today’s protestors have only heard about from their parents, grandparents or read about online or in books. Many were not prepared for the depths the powerful will sink to in order to force obedience, obeisance and to ensure everyone keeps buying junk, junk and more junk on ever-dwindling paychecks.
I’ve even come to believe that for the most part the only reason crimes are solved and police intercede at all is because the populace at large absolutely would not accept utter anarchy. If common street crime many live with daily encroached on their manicured lawns a certain group of people would do more than change donations to the political candidate of their choice. They would be shrill as an air raid siren with a broken off-switch. Annoy a few million of the upper-class base and changes would definitely be made starting at the top, something those in charge are terrified of. So a thin blue line is drawn, not between chaos and order but between those in power and the people. Once again stating the obvious there are already a vast number of Americans who have been experiencing this for decades if not centuries.
I’m not saying that Law Enforcement is bad from top to bottom. There are caring, heroic members out there who are just doing their jobs in the best way they can. But it is clear that when the pepper spray canisters and riot batons come out, they reveal who they really work for.
It isn’t us.