Alice Walker said that “the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
With this concept at work (in reverse), citizens of New York and the United States successfully intimidated the NYPD from implementing a terrifying policy. Last Friday, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton announced that a new unit, the “Strategic Response Group,” would be permanently policing protests and dealing with terrorist threats.
“It is designed for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.”
Bratton boasted that,
“They’ll be equipped and trained in ways that our normal patrol officers are not…They’ll be equipped with all the extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns—unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.”
He explained in no uncertain terms:
“The officers will have a dedicated mission of protecting locations and being able to assist us in dealing with demonstrations.”
The news understandably prompted outrage from the media, groups and citizens around the country, especially considering that the NYPD has inflicted enough violence and brutality against peaceful protesters without the use of machine guns.
“They will not be involved in handling protests and demonstrations. They’ll have no role in protests. Their response is single-fold. They’ll be doing counter-terror work. They’ll be assigned to different posts throughout the city.”
The expedient backlash demonstrates the power of paying attention. Though most Americans tune out depressing and outrageous news, the simple act of watching (and reacting to) the watchers has proven effective at stopping some of the grosser infringements by police.
Following last summer’s outrage over police brutality and militarization after Ferguson, many police departments attempted to return military gear granted to them by the federal government. Though they were met with extreme difficulties, departments listened to the views of those they “protect and serve.” Some had even done so before the Ferguson protests. Similarly, the city of Los Angeles has, for the time being, backed off on a plan to police the skies with drones — all thanks to outrage from the community (in a non-police example, outrage over internet censorship also forced Congress to halt SOPA and PIPA).
Of course, the small win in New York does not undo the vast encroachments by police on a macro level. Cops can still kill protesters and regular citizens with piddly old handguns and batons if they so desire. They can pepper spray to their hearts’ content. In fact, should they declare protesters “terrorists” (not uncommon with the federal government, which is partially funding the Strategic Response Group through the DHS), the machine guns will likely be entirely “justified” in the eyes of authorities.
The threat of non-violent activities being deemed terroristic is real: in Montana, a group promoting peace and love was recently deemed associated with terrorism by local police and you guessed it, the Department of Homeland Security. A 9-year-old boy was recently accused of terrorism for bringing a Lord of the Rings ring to school and acting out scenes from the film.
As long as there is government there will be violations of freedom, but the mafioso NYPD’s apparent trepidation in the face of protest demonstrates that if more people pay attention, the state will be less emboldened to exploit and oppress them.
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