Monday, October 3, 2011

Advice for NYPD and Occupy Wall St

Norm Stamper is a 34-year veteran of the San Diego and Seattle police departments. He was chief of the Seattle police during the 1999 World Trade Center protests – a demonstration that, by some estimates, numbered 100,000 people.
Over the past decade he has spoken candidly about his career, police culture, and the decisions he made during that protest. He regularly contributes to the Huffington Post, and is the author of Breaking Rank: A Top Cop's Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing.
I contacted him Sunday and asked if he could comment on the Occupy Wall Street demonstration.
Here is his response.
Feel free to comment!
I've been watching the Occupy Wall Street protests with keen, indeed fierce interest. Not so much for the police tactics -- though I hope and pray NYPD will learn from my mistakes in Seattle.
There are legitimate law enforcement concerns that need to be addressed and understood by all. Making sure, for example, that even if it requires a detour, emergency vehicles can make it to critical 9-1-1 calls, shootings, hospital runs, etc. Kinda hard to find a detour if we're talking about a bridge.
It's fairly easy, through advanced negotiations, to get creative and agree, for example, to the use of "corridors" during an occupation. If an aid car or a police unit must to get to the other side of a mass protest, the protestors would yield, creating a clear path for that to happen. Much, much harder to pull it off in the heat of the moment.
Then, too, protest leaders (an elusive term, reflecting a generally positive development these days) might want take into account what they gain or lose in blocking fellow citizens from getting to an ailing grandmother, a death in the family, a trip to the pharmacy for essential meds, even junior's championship soccer game. I believe it's everyday, middle class Americans who will eventually turn the tide. Which means a winning-hearts-and-minds campaign is every bit as important as the (essential) direct assault on corporate greed and government complicity.
If I had the ear of NYPD brass I would urge them to work closely with protestors calling or influencing the shots; move slowly; ask themselves whether a particular action is truly necessary, or simply a reflection of "we've always done it this way"; take the time to make sure, if a legitimate and necessary action is contemplated that everyone can hear the order, and the consequences of noncompliance (repeat the directive over and over, for however long it takes to ensure that all have heard it). Maybe it's gratuitous, but I'd also urge them to provide intense, ongoing training that in addition to matters of strategy and tactics would emphasize: the role of police in a democratic society, the absolute need for personal self-discipline, and the disciplinary consequences of rogue actions. I'd also stow the gas, and require that pepper-spraying commander to find another line of work.
I don't think we can afford illusions about the depth, breadth and insidious nature of corporate power, or the retaliative, false-imaging capacity of Perkins' "corporatocracy"--with its legislative, executive, and judicial allies. But I really do believe we are as close as we've ever been to capturing the imagination and gaining the commitment of great masses of Americans to "rage against the machine" ways that make a difference.
I can't sign off without recommending a fabulous new book, written by Michael Sky, a dear friend who passed away shortly after completing the book. His partner and several of us fans did a reading yesterday, followed by a "community conversation." The house was packed, the discussion spirited, the mood more uplifting than I would have predicted. Change is afoot, and we believe we can help make it happen.
Jubilee Day is a terrific murder mystery, political thriller, and manifesto for sweeping changes in the way America conducts business, in its institutional behavior at home and abroad. Its subtitle, When America Changes Its Mind About All the Big Things, reflects much of what is going on in NYC. Several people yesterday suggested that the manifesto be printed and shared with protestors at "the Wall." I think it's a wonderful idea. In fact, as a proud promoter of the book, I would ask if you have any sources/contacts we might reach out to in order to spread the word?
More than you bargained for, I'm sure, but I hope this has been helpful.

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