When the NYPD launched a paramilitary-style attack on Zuccotti Park the night of November 15, 2011, among its first orders of business was to ensure that no media could capture video footage. That’s right — only NYPD themselves were entitled to record. For the duration of Occupy Wall Street, legions of so-called “TARU” officers — short for “Technical Assistance Response Unit” – could be relied upon to swarm the entire area whenever protest activity occurred in Lower Manhattan. The “assistance” these officers provided was to dutifully document all the action with their nifty hand-held videocameras.
Now footage from the night of the raid has been leaked, ostensibly by the Anonymous hacker collective. Lawyers representing Occupiers charged with crimes stemming from the infamous incursion were given the footage several months ago, but it had not yet been released into the public domain (there was no protective order restricting its distribution, either). Obvious edits are evident at key junctures, making it likely that the most egregious instances of abuse/harassment were conveniently jettisoned.
In any event, 60 hours of video are now available to peruse; I sampled some of it. Quite tellingly, the “TARU” narrators use a lot of military jargon, referring to time in the classic Military Format (e.g. “O 500 hours). It’s almost like they envisage themselves rounding up insurgents in Fallujah, not unarmed 20-something anarchists camping out near the World Trade Center.
“On the sidewalk!” an officer growls in one scene, shoving some young man for no good reason. “I’m already on the sidewalk!” the man replies, “make some sense!” Seconds later, another man wearing an official (as in, NYPD-issued) press pass is ripped from the crowd by officers and dragged off. “Press press press press press!” he objects, to no avail. “This is unfair. You’re arresting innocent people,” someone interjects, in a tone far calmer than the situation warranted. No response from the officers, naturally.
The oozing contempt and rage which animated the NYPD that night is palpable in almost every frame. You can just feel their hatred seethe. As cops march around in full regalia, many laugh at and taunt the Occupiers; that night I rushed to the park – to film video for Reason in fact — and was nearly beaten myself by officers joyfully whacking people with batons. They would snicker, jeer, and occasionally let out full-on hearty chortles without compunction. A large percentage obviously enjoyed inflicting pain and humiliation on others. “You’re laughing, but it’s not funny,” one distraught woman exclaims in the footage. (It might be worth pointing out here that the NYPD’s official credo is “Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect”)
In the new video, bullhorn-welding senior officers traipse around the park they’ve surrounded, issuing legalistic-sounding orders that were doubtless dictated to them by some combination of the NYPD legal bureau and lawyers representing Brookfield Properties, the “owners” of Zuccotti Park, on whose Board of Directors sat Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s longtime female companion. They cite bad-faith injunctions involving some unspecified “fire hazard” — feigned concerns about “safety” were common back then – as impetus for the violent extraction. “Thank you for your cooperation,” concludes one bullhorning officer, adding a final jab.
Footage taken by Detective Ray Rivera is part of the dump. It just so happens that two days after the raid, I had a very illuminating interaction with Mr. Rivera. As I wrote then:
You’ll notice that upon seeing me with a flipcam, Rivera says “Get that camera the fuck out of my face.” Which is a strange thing to tell someone, especially someone filming a political demonstration of national and international interest. It’s even stranger if the individual making that injunction video records other people for a living, whether his subjects like it or not.
“Sir, how much time do we have?” a man asks Rivera in the footage. “I need to get my puppy chow.”
“Not much,” Rivera hisses. “Let’s go! Let’s FUCKIN’ go! Come on!” one of Rivera’s colleagues can be heard scoffing.
In another scene, a man with a videocamera calmly asserts his right to record, but the officer in question is, of course, unmoved. “CLEAR THE SIDEWALK!” this officer blares, unamenable, as always, to persuasion/facts/reason. There is even footage from the storied NYPD panopticon tower that was erected shortly after the encampment began, and which loomed ominously over Occupiers, “always watching” — whomever was operating the thing jerks it around wildly, as if using a joystick.
One TARU filmer zooms in creepily close on the face of a woman hollering “Bullshit!” as officers encircle the park, preparing to attack. And on and on and on.
Officers clad in proto-military garb wrestle nonviolent Occupiers from their dwellings, cussing and growling. NYPD would later feed compliant local news media misleading smears about hypodermic needles being recovered from the encampment — as if drug abuse was a problem exclusive to Zuccotti Park — while failing to note 1) that NYPD themselves were caught directing mentally-ill and homeless people into the park and 2) that a MEDICAL TENT had been set up to provide these individuals with free medical care.
“What’s his badge number? 3979! I saw you hit him in the head,” a woman screams, as the NYPD’s invasion commenced. Of course, nothing would ever happen to that particular officer in the way of punishment; within certain boundaries, police personnel were free to inflict as much physical pain as they desired. “Officers, can I bum a cigarette before you arrest me?” one guy asks wryly.
The lesson here is that a massive, centralized police department with no mechanisms to ensure accountability will inevitably become corrupt, and in the NYPD’s case to the point of absurdity. That night, they utterly dispensed with all logic; they were just going to clear people the fuck out of that goddamn park, law be damned. Whatever you think about Occupy Wall Street is immaterial. On the orders of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the NYPD staged a paramilitary raid on a peaceable assembly without any lawful pretense whatsoever. In fact, Bloomberg explicitly violated a court order the following morning. But because he and the NYPD Brass knew they would never be held responsible for their criminal acts, they carried on with them regardless (while at the same time enforcing a record number of stop-and-frisks on poor New Yorkers of color who committed no crime).
The guiding principle of Occupy Wall Street in New York was never merely to antagonize the police, although the police were certainly viewed as functionaries of a rigged system which favors the mega-rich. However, as time progressed, highlighting the NYPD’s depravity certainly did become a focus; this was because the NYPD treated Occupiers like enemies from the outset, operating under the assumption that — as Bloomberg remarked — any prolonged street demonstrations in New York City must be handled akin to how the 2011 London riots ought to have been handled. You would not believe all the disgusting comments I heard coming out the mouths of meathead officers, often hurled at women. Yes, some individual NYPD were fine, and perhaps even sympathetic to Occupy, but because the NYPD is so institutionally corrupt, any reasonableness they might have displayed was totally lost in the ether.
“Courtesy, professionalism, respect” — what a joke.
Michael Tracey writes for Salon and The American Conservative.