For the past two months, I haven’t had much to say about Occupy Wall Street. I mean, I agreed in principle with the protesters’ arguments: the inequality of wealth in this country is staggering, and rich people and corporations essentially control politics. And one day I even toured Zuccotti Park with DadWagon’s own Theodore Ross; it was interesting to witness, but it didn’t bring about in me much of an emotional response. Perhaps it’s because I’m deathly allergic to drum circles, sloganeering, and the human microphone. At best, the whole thing depressed me, because despite the media attention (and widespread public support) OWS has attracted, I couldn’t see it changing much in this world. I may be on their side, but I had to watch from the other side of the barriers.
But as of yesterday morning, I’m more than depressed. I’m frustrated and angry and nearly totally disillusioned. Of course, it’s not like I expected Mayor Bloomberg to allow the protests to go on forever; he’s too much of a classical tyrant for that. It’s just that I’d hoped that the NYPD would go about clearing the demonstrators in an even-handed manner. That was obviously an unreasonable expectation, and I knew it at the time, but still, having watched the videos, scanned the photos, and read the eyewitness accounts, I’m appalled at the fury and glee with which the cops cleared the park, as if they truly enjoyed knocking hippies’ heads and sending these spoiled, whining kids to jail.
What makes this ever more frustrating is that my daughter, Sasha, is now almost 3 years old—an age at which she can spot policemen and police cars on the street, and so is probably old enough that I can start telling her that if there’s a big problem, if she’s lost or if someone’s hurt, she should go fetch a cop. Which is absolutely what she should do. It’s what I would do, too.
Except that I absolutely do not trust the police at all. It’s not just the clearing of Zuccotti Park. There’s the gun-running, the needless arrests, the planting of evidence on thousands of people, and the assholish culture of impunity that pervades the force. My lack of trust isn’t exactly new: As a teenager, I was a skateboarder, and skateboarders in the 1980s and 1990s quickly learned that guys with blue uniforms were to be avoided at all costs. They were jerks, and jerks at our expense.
Now, however, I’m ever more conflicted, because I live in a small corner of Brooklyn that needs more police presence. Things aren’t apocalyptic here—instead of rampant murders and violence, we have teenage vandalism, drug-dealing, and the occasional gunshot. But those are precisely the things that an increased police presence would help prevent, if the local precincts were willing to send more car and foot patrols around.
Some (particularly those in the Bloomberg administration) might argue that it’s partly because of protests like Occupy Wall Street that the NYPD is stretched so thin. Which is bullshit. I’m willing to accept that the protest needs some police oversight (there have been crimes like theft and sexual assault in the encampment), but the protests have been largely peaceful—i.e., not deserving of a massive police presence capped by a clearing-out by cops in riot gear. If the mayor is really interested in preserving public health and safety, he could, you know, start in my neighborhood.
Except that now it’s too late. Who trusts the NYPD anymore? Certainly not the kids in the housing projects that bookend my block. And now not us concerned, progressive New Yorkers. When If I see the cops circling my neighborhood, am I supposed to feel safer? Given what happened Monday night—and over the past several years—I have to say the answer is no. Would I still call 911 in an emergency? Of course—what choice do I have? But would I expect prompt, reliable, professional assistance? Not really. By its actions, the NYPD has eroded whatever sympathies it might have built up in this era of historically low crime.
And again, how do you explain this to your kids? How do you convey the necessity of trusting authorities that you—equally necessarily—cannot actually trust? At 3 years old, Sasha is still too young for such a complicated discussion, but I know exactly what I’m going to do when she’s the right age: I’m going to give her a skateboard, and let her find out for herself.