Police crackdown on Occupy Boston raises key question: Why?

It’s important that we gain control and make sure the rules are followed.

— Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis in The Boston Herald

For ten days, Boston police and Occupy Boston protesters lived a largely polite co-existence.  The protesters policed their own encampment in Dewey Square, across from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and South Station.  The police kept a low-key presence.

When I went with my students to the Dewey Square site a week ago Monday,  it was a protester who asked us not to block the sidewalk, telling us that police wanted all passageways clear for pedestrians. I found this self-policing remarkable as I did the general praise I heard from protesters for the Boston Police Department.

But something happened during the course of the last week: I suspect that something has much to do with the fact that Occupy Boston kept growing. And when a second tent city spilled over to the Rose Kennedy Greenway, a generally empty strip of parkland separating the waterfront and downtown, the cops moved in.

Last night, at 1:30 a.m., according to The Boston Herald and Boston Globe,  a huge contingent of police — up to 700 — waded into the park, The Herald reports.  [Later reports put that figure at “over 200 officers.”] Their action followed a request by Mayor Menino that protesters leave the area by midnight, and it followed warnings by police that protesters either disperse or face arrest.

Only then did police tear down protesters’ tents and throw them and personal belongings into the trash. About 100 people were hauled off, their hands bound.  As of 8:30 morning, the OccupyBoston Facebook page had collected $3,170 in legal aid donations for the arrested protesters, who reportedly face charges of illegal assembly.

Those are the baseline reported facts. But what’s less clear is, “Why?”  Why did police create a confrontation that clearly will escalate the scale and edge of the Occupy Boston movement?

The official answer appears to be that Friends of the Greenway have recently spent$150,000 on park improvements.

Really? As I passed the park several times this summer on the way to the Blues Barge at the Harbor Hotel, it was virtually empty.  My wife and I frequently talked about what Boston could do to make the largely ignored strip of green more vibrant.

And I have to wonder just how much damage a group of peaceful campers could cause, compared, for example, to drunken revelers after the Stanley Cup championship.  The beautification argument seems somewhat hollow.

Why then?  Does the answer lie in Paul Krugman’s Monday column in The New York Times, Panic of the Plutocrats.  He wrote that the real extremism in this country lies with Wall Street high-rollers and their political patrons, not with the Occupy protesters. He suggests these high rollers realize that if the spotlight of the Occupy movement bears down long enough on Wall Street’s shenanigans, the bankers and brokers could find themselves in an indefensible position. And so the rich and powerful fall over themselves to brand this peaceful movement of largely young adults as extremist and Leninist and, lately, “anti-American.” (And here I thought this country was born on notions freedom of speech, petition and assembly.)

In Krugman’s own words:  “Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is. … They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.”

It’s interesting to listen to Police Commissioner Davis’ perspective in the context of Krugman’s words.  Noted The Herald:

Davis acknowledged that the arrests marked a shift in the once harmonious relations between the group and the police.

“The group that was here for the first ten days was working very closely with us,” Davis said, “but they warned us yesterday morning that a new group, the anarchists, wanted to take control.”

This morning, Mayor Menino seemed to suggest that protesters in the Greenway were not the only ones in the sights of the newly confrontational Boston Police Department.  Asked by WBUR public radio how long the city would allow the tent city in Dewey Square to remain, the mayor first said the police commissioner would make a decision in “the very near future” and then said he anticipated a time “very shortly” when the city would ask the protesters in Dewey Square to disperse, too.

Does this suggest that last night’s arrests have little to do with anarchists or the beautification of the Greenway after all?  I think I’ll wander over to Dewey Square this morning to try to find out. But for now at least, I’m not buying the Boston Police Department’s explanation.


About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at www.jerrylanson.com. My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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