Fear of a white shirt

A whiteshirt (the now infamous Anthony Bologna, police inspector, NYPD) pepper-sprays a group of peaceful women protesters at Occupy Wall Street. You can hear one of the blue-shirted officers say “I can’t believe he just fuckin’ maced her.” This incident took place near Union Square, in Manhattan.

Dangerous Minds recently asked how many cops it takes to arrest a teenage girl (who was neither violent nor aggressive). Apparently it depends on the color of their shirts. Brown and black are no longer the only shirt colors of fascism. The new brownshirt…is a whiteshirt:

As the Occupy Wall Street protests, which began on Sept. 17, lurch into their third week, it is often the white shirts who lay hands on protesters or initiate arrests. Video recordings of clashes have shown white shirts — lieutenants, captains or inspectors — leading underlings into the fray.

White shirts led the face-off with protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday afternoon. The episode provided no viral YouTube moments, as the senior officers avoided confrontations with the demonstrators. Yet as hundreds of arrests were made, chants of “white shirts, white shirts” could be heard.

And a white shirt is the antagonist in the demonstrations’ defining image: Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna’s dousing of some penned-in women with pepper spray on Sept. 24, which seemed to surprise at least one of the blue shirts standing near him on East 12th Street, near University Place. The department is investigating the spraying.

Martin R. Stolar, a member of the National Lawyers Guild who is representing protesters, said, “It appears that it is white shirts that are directing the rough arrests.” To him, their actions constitute a policy from on high. Even the chief of department, Joseph J. Esposito, the highest-ranking officer, was mixing with marchers last Saturday, briefly holding two people by the arm and directing their arrests.

Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman, did not return a call to discuss the department’s strategy, but in an e-mail he said most of the roughly 80 arrests made last Saturday “were made by police officers directed by supervisors.”

In everyday policing situations, the one-two punch of uniformed response usually goes like this: Blue shirts form the first wave, with white shirts following. But those roles seem reversed in the police response to the Wall Street protests.

Police officers, law enforcement analysts and others cited a number of reasons for it. The prevalence of white shirts around Zuccotti Park, the center of the protests, signals how closely the department monitors high-profile events. Strategies are carefully laid out; guidelines for crowd dispersal are rehearsed; arrest teams are assembled. It is all in an effort to choreograph a predictable level of control.

Yet in the pepper-spray episode last Saturday, critics say, judgment was lacking.

“Unlike much street policing, large marches and protests involve lots of advance planning and the assignment of many supervisors to the scene,” said Christopher T. Dunn, of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “It’s therefore not surprising that supervisors would be personally involved in arrests. What is surprising and alarming is the sight of them using excessive force against protesters. Beyond the injuries that causes, it sends a terrible message.”

A terrible message? Yes, it does. It says straight up that this is a class struggle, and the upper class — the whiteshirts — are determined to get the upper hand over the lower class.

The following text can be found at the URL for the YouTube video I used above:

The Other 99 condemns hate speech and violent rhetoric directed at anyone in this video. We remain peaceful. We especially wish to thank all the brave NYPD officers who performed honorably this day. We refuse to allow the actions of a few to smear many.

The NYPD has fewer men and women on the streets than in 1992. Their budgets are slashed to 20 year lows. Overtime and pensions are under attack, deserved promotions are delayed because the dept cannot afford the salary increases. This is not justice and The Other 99 stands in solidarity with those who keep us safe, day and night. The NYPD is The Other 99, as well. We continue to peacefully occupy and fight for them…

The boys in blue are, or should be, the natural allies of the blue-collar workers, the strikers, the unemployed, and the students who know too well that a McJob won’t pay for decent living conditions, never mind a college or university education. They are not far removed, economically or geographically, from the living conditions of those people. They have bills to pay, families to feed, clothe, house and educate. They have to struggle for proper healthcare, which corporate insurance is built upon denying to them. Many of them are just a paycheque or two away from homelessness. They, too, are 99%ers.

But they are being ordered against their own people by the whiteshirts, the white-collared commanding officers. They are being ordered to break up the peaceful demonstrations using force.

And since the demonstrations are not aggressive, any force is excessive. There can be no talk of “appropriate force” here. ALL the force being used against the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators is inappropriate. Their free-assembly rights are being infringed by the fact that they are being shunted off Wall Street proper, and into the “free speech zone” of Zuccotti Park (which they have dubbed Liberty Square). Their free-speech rights are being infringed by the fact that they can’t use any sound amplification, other than to have a multitude of voices yelling back and repeating what one individual has said. (They call this phenomenon the human microphone, or the people’s microphone.) How much longer before THAT right, too, is taken away?

How much longer before the blueshirts, in other words, receive orders from the whiteshirts to cart everyone off, or to literally beat the shit out of them, even if no one has lifted a finger in aggression?

The day that happens, it will be the day we know that the divide-and-conquer strategies of the oppressors, however few they are, will have worked against the many. In the meantime, the blueshirts face a hard choice: Stand with the people — THEIR people — or with those who want to keep them down and out.

The whiteshirts have already made their choice, it seems.

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