The front end loader
By 5:40, five men sat in front of a front-end loader parked on the street across from South Station and refused to move. They locked arms. Officers used flashlights aimed at people at on the sidewalk in an unsuccessful attempt to hinder observation and photography.
As the police pried the protestors apart they seemed to honor one protester’s request to “please be gentle.”
“You shouldn’t resist, because that’s going to be an additional charge, now, for resisting arrest, which means you will not be bailed out, sir,” a police officer explained, “don’t resist arrest, that’s it. You can lay down, that’s fine, but don’t resist.” One young man, before being taken under arrest, was allowed to pass his backpack to a friend. After several minutes of what looked like careful effort on the part of the police, all four men were handcuffed and placed in wagons.
Speaking at a brief press conference around 6 a.m., Evans said, “…this morning, we moved into the operation here at Occupy Boston. As we moved in the protestors were sitting down, not putting up much of a fight. We ended up arresting several dozen at this time. Our operational basic plan was very orderly, very methodical. Nobody was injured. And there was no confrontation whatsoever. The several dozen that we arrested we charged with trespassing after we’d given several warnings to leave the premises before they were arrested. There were several also arrested for locking arms and resisting arrest; so we don’t have the exact number, but several dozen, again, after repeated announcements over the loudspeakers to leave or they would be arrested. They wanted to get arrested. It went very well and we’re very happy with the operation.”
“Occupy will never die”
Directly in front of South Station, a half hour after Evans gave a press conference that seemed to indicate arrests were over or the morning, more were made. Ridgely Fuller, an activist with a generation more experience than many of her comrades, joined hands with two other women and lead them past the curb while pausing to decide “what is our chant?” A moment later, the trio skipped into the intersection singing, “Evict us? We’ll multiply; Occupy will never die!” before being joined by Rita Sebastian, an activist whose smiling face would often be seen in the vicinity of the Info Tent. The quartet was soon cuffed, arrested, and taken away by police.
Everyone is a human being
Sage Radachowski, known in the camp for dispensing enough wisdom to justify his first name, reported in an Ideas Working Group email, “In the early morning raid, one police woman was crying and yelled ‘They are humans too!’ This shows that she recognized so strongly our humanity that she would risk her reputation to say something out of order. Also, shows that she is a human being who cares enough about us to do something at risk of her own position.”
Confirming the report of this emotional display, @Occupocalypse tweeted, “I witnessed the female officer crying. The male cops around her did NOT yell or berate her. They were trying to cheer her up…Reason I clarify this about the crying female cop. Cops do enough shitty things on their own, we don’t need to make things up.”
Summing up his reflections on the totality of events, Radachowsk wrote, “We won respect, of the public, of the police, of the mayor, but mostly of the public. We gained legitimacy. We showed respect and hard work. We showed that we are nonviolent. We showed what we care about. We showed that everyone is a human being.”
“The protesters are human, and us not being officious all the time is important,’’ Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said at a press conference later in the day, “You can get caught up in the legalistic parts, but it’s important to be reasonable.’’
Criticism of the police
Despite all the indications of goodwill described herein, not all reports of police behavior were rosy. Noah McKenna, one of the plaintiffs on the court case Judge Frances McIntyre ruled against on December 7, was photographed by the Boston Globe being hauled away with a grimace of extreme pain caused by the way he was bound. @Caulkthewagon tweeted about “Noah describing that he got one of the rare officers who wanted to inflict pain. I witnessed & LT’ed this. Will continue to witness for him.”
The Boston Phoenix’s Chris Faraone, himself having grown intimate with some of Occupy Boston’s core people over the past two months, tweeted a picture of the bandaged hand of a masked male said to have been injured during the raid. While injuries seem to have been few, and minor, many dislike that legal observers and the camp’s medics were forced out of the park while the arrests were made.
Numerous journalists and members of the Occupy Boston Media Team took umbrage at what they saw as police efforts to stop them from making record of the morning’s events. The statement that appeared in OccupyBoston.org summed up these complaints: “Credentialed press, citizen journalists, academic researchers, and #OccupyBoston media members were repeatedly corralled and moved to surrounding areas 50 feet away or more, prohibiting many from thoroughly covering the raid. From pointing lights in photographers’ lenses to targeting the two official #OccupyBoston USTREAM live videographers for removal, officials went to great lengths to block media access.”
Before she joined three other women in the intersection and subsequently got arrested, Rita Sebastian complained that while she was being removed from the park, her breasts were touched by a police officer with no visible badge. She also said that specific police officers had refused to identify themselves as they are required, a concern voiced by other people on the scene as well.
Radachowski, writing about some of the negative reports from the morning, opined, “Some police covered their badge numbers with black tape. This is the ‘black block’ of the police. I don’t think we should decry this. I think we should honor this, as it shows the rebellious spirit of some of the police, their willingness to ‘do what needs to be done’ on the same level as our own Direct Action.”
He added, “There were specific instances of brutality, and we may learn more soon, but we should not let that overshadow the big picture. The big picture is that we built relationships that are very powerful, and included those in power as human beings, into the task of changing the world. This does not mean that we endorse those in power, but we are changing the power landscape fundamentally. This is a huge win for us. We have gained power that we can use wisely going forward.”
A much-needed light
Later Saturday, joining Davis at the police headquarters for a press conference, Menino thanked the Occupy Boston demonstrators for their cooperation during the raid and, in a way, for occupying Dewey Square until police removed them. According to Menino, the protest “…shined a much-needed light, still needed, on the growing economic inequality in this country.”
While words of support are appreciated by many activists, many said that he still doesn’t “get” the nature of the Occupy movement and why the leaderless, directly-democratic model it functions by is, perhaps, it’s greatest strength.
“If they had leadership and an issue,” said Menino later, “they could be the most powerful group in America.”
Evans, speaking in the lobby of HQ, discussed the strategies adopted by the BPD saying “Our motto is to ‘kill them with kindness’…You can talk your way out of anything. We don’t need sticks out. We don’t need helmets on…We didn’t want it looking like the cavalry was coming in.” Evans also described a last minute effort to leave a specific protestor — a long-haired young man with bold ideas for targeted civil disobedience — behind. “I said, ‘Duncan, come on, don’t go. Let me get the cuffs off.’ But he wanted to be arrested.” After the commotion had cleared, Evans called Rachel, one of the activists with whom he had exchanged phone numbers weeks before, and explained, almost apologetically, “I had to do it.”
There are, of course, those protestors who are still venting their anger at either the actions of individual police or, in rarer cases, the fact that police exist at all.
Many say that Boston, called “the birthplace of American dissent” by some, should have allowed the occupation of Dewey Square indefinitely.
But seen in the context of the brutal American autumn that birthed the meme of the “Pepper Spray Cop,” it’s undeniable that, no matter how one sees the substance behind events that transpired in Massachusetts, they took a remarkably different form than events in New York, California, Colorado and elsewhere.
A wandering tribe
The effort to secure indoor meeting spaces and other accommodations began over a month ago. This wasn’t just a contingency plan in case or raid; anticipation of bad winter weather was also a factor. But this endeavor has only been partially successful, and Occupy Boston has essentially become a wandering tribe of individuals and small groups of people spread out across Greater Boston.
Problems this creates were demonstrated Saturday morning when a gang of over a dozen uniformed Transit Police confronted a group of displaced occupiers drinking coffee at a table in South Station. They group was told to leave the property because, in the words of one officer, “You’ve been here over an hour and a half.” When one women noted that she had arrived less than 15 minutes earlier, the officer said, “Yes, but the group you’re with has been here longer” and indicated that she, too, was therefore unwelcome.
Attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild were present and confronted the Transit Police. When the police tried to make the length of time since purchase of food or beverage the crux of the issue, one of the lawyers (half of a set of twins familiar to many in Occupy Boston since October 10 when the encampment tried to expand along the Greenway) offered to buy everyone coffee. When the cops said people needed to be commuters if they wanted to eat and drink in the station, the lawyers noted “you’re only kicking out the occupiers” and asked the officers if they’d be confronting every person in the station about their ticket-holding status.
In response to a police officer making vague points about station policy, the lawyers demanded to see record of this policy. The lawyers then located a large list of rules and regulations posted outside the restrooms, but the document made no mention of the length of time people were allowed to stay in the station, or whether the purchase of tickets or food items was a factor. When the police accused the occupiers of loitering, the lawyers told them that there was no law against loitering in Massachusetts and added, “there used to be, but it was struck down as unconstitutional.”
When asked by Blast if their show of police force was a coincidence that “has nothing to do with these people’s affiliation” with Occupy Boston, the Transit officer answering questions maintained that it was coincidental and just part of an effort to “keep the station…we have a real problem with homeless people and everyone else.” When the conversation ended, however, police backed down and allowed occupiers (and everyone else) to stay.
Following a long standing plan, occupiers held a 7 p.m. post-raid General Assembly at the bandstand on Boston Common. Police presence — perhaps in anticipation of an attempt to occupy the area with tents — was considerable. Confrontation about small matters such as where signs could be placed seemed to work against the goodwill efforts made by Evans and other police officials.
Called Occupy Boston’s “biggest GA ever,” it was characterized — like Occupy Boston itself — by tension between different priorities. Some wanted to dwell on the arrests and tell their stories from that morning. Others wanted to address the issue of Occupy Boston’s displaced homeless population and the fact that well-intentioned efforts to provide them care and shelter hadn’t totally succeeded. There was also the weighty matter of how Occupy Boston’s various working groups could successfully move forward and perhaps gain, rather than lose, momentum in the wake of the raids.
But police were determined to enforce a 10 p.m. curfew on the assembly. For some protestors, the idea of being kicked out of the Boston Common (the first stop on the city’s historical Freedom Trail) seemed like a particularity outrageous infringement on free speech and the right to lawful assembly. Despite their indignation, people were cold, exhausted, and drained by a long week of turmoil. Understanding the difference between choosing one’s battles and abandoning a struggle, people dispersed to strategize elsewhere or just to get some much-needed rest.
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