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Police State Tactics

The ugly hand of the federal government is becoming increasingly suspected behind what appears to be a nationwide attempt to repress and evict the Occupation Movement.

Across the country in recent days, ultimatums have been issues to groups occupying Portland, OR, Chicago, IL, San Francisco, Dallas, TX, Atlanta, GA, and most recently New York, NY, where the Occupation Movement began on September 17. The two most recent eviction efforts, in Oakland and New York, have been the worst.

The police attacks have had a lot in common. They have been “justified” based upon trumped up pre-textural claims that the occupiers are creating a health hazard, or a fire hazard, or a crime problem, generally on little or no evidence, or there has been a digging up of obscure and constitutionally questionable statutes, for example laws outlawing the homeless. Then the police come in, usually in dead of night, dressed in riot gear and heavily armed with mace weapons, batons, plastic cuffs and tear gas, or even assault rifles in some cases and so-called flash-bang stun grenades–all weapons to be used against peaceful demonstrators.

So violent has been the response that some returned veterans have condemned the police for using weapons and tactics that are not even permitted by occupying troops in war-torn countries.

“We definitely feel, especially in a movement like this that has arisen so quickly in a number of cities, that there will be a coordinated national effort to try and shut it down,” says Heidi Bogosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, which has been playing a key role providing legal services to the new movement.

“We see the scapegoating of these movements, the attacks at night, and in general tactics designed to terrorize and to scare protesters away. I can’t see this as anything other than centrally coordinated.”

One indication of that coordination may have been a conference call among 18 city mayors which was confirmed by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan in a radio interview on San Francisco station KALW. Dan Siegel, an Oakland attorney who worked as an advisor to Quan, but who resigned in disgust after Oakland police and law enforcement personnel from a number of surrounding jurisdictions brutally drove occupiers there out of their park using tear gas, supposedly non-lethal ammunition (bean bags and rubber bullets) and flash-bang grenades in a night-time raid in the early hours of November 14, says that phone conference call took place, significantly, while Quan was in Washington, DC.

Shortly afterwards, on Oct. 25, Quan authorized the first brutal police assault on Occupy Oakland. It led, among other things, to the critical wounding of  Scott Olsen, an Iraq War veteran who was among the protesters, and was hit in the forehead by a police tear gas cannister fired at close range.

Who organized that critical conference call? Was it Quan or one of the other mayors, or was it someone in the federal government? Siegel says he doesn’t know, and Quan  isn’t saying.

But both Siegel and Boghosian say they strongly suspect federal involvement in the planning of the recent spate of police violence against occupiers. Says Siegel, “It’s only logical to assume that the ‘Fusion Centers’ are involved, especially after the Oakland occupiers shut down the port in Oakland.”

Some  72  Fusion Centers, located around the US and funded by the US at a cost of half a billion dollars, are a post 9-11creation of the new Homeland Security Department. Bringing the FBI together with local law enforcement departments, they both collect and share domestic intelligence, and can serve as command centers to direct local law enforcement in helping implement national law enforcement goals. There are also many Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which directly link the FBI with urban police departments.

Says Boghosian, “What we are seeing here is the Miami model, with various levels of law enforcement, local, state and federal, all at work. It would be shocking if federal law enforcement were not seeing this occupy movement now as a national security threat.”

Mara Veheyden-Hilliard, co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild’s National Mass Defense Committee, based in Washington, agrees. “These crackdowns on the occupation movement certainly appear to be part of a national strategy to crush them,” she says. “We haven’t yet found overt evidence of federal involvement, but the fact that in rapid succession local authorities have taken action raises the specter of coordination.”

She adds, “There is absolutely no legal justification for the involvement of the Joint Terrorism Task Forces in this movement. These demonstrations are not terrorist activities, and police should not be treating them as such, yet all over the country the police are treating the protesters as if they are criminals. The similarity of the response everywhere to the movement makes it appear that there is a coordinated strategy.”

Meanwhile, Siegel, now back in private practice, says that since the riots that followed the killing of Oscar Grant by a BART transit cop, who shot Grant fatally in the head after he had been arrested, subdued and handcuffed for a turnstile jumping violation, federal law enforcement officials have been observed actively involved in police activities in the Oakland area.

Some Oakland residents have reported seeing federal vehicles and possibly also National Guard equipment during the police actions against occupation demonstrators, too, though National Guardsmen can only be legally activated by a governor, and California Gov. Jerry Brown, a former mayor of Oakland, has not publicly issued any such order.

Rick Ellis, a journalist with the Minneapolis office of the news outlet Examiner.com, is  reporting that an unidentified US Justice Department official has confirmed what Boghosian, Siegel and Veheyden-Hilliard say they suspect is the case: that each of the recent brutal police evictions and attacks on occupation groups “was coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal police agencies.”

Ellis writes, “According to this official, in several recent conference calls and briefings, local police agencies were advised to seek a legal reason to evict residents of tent cities, focusing on zoning laws and existing curfew rules. Agencies were also advised to demonstrate a massive show of police force, including large numbers in riot gear. In particular, the FBI reportedly advised on press relations, with one presentation suggesting that any moves to evict protesters be coordinated for a time when the press was the least likely to be present.”

Given how things have played out, it certainly looks like the suspicions were correct, and that Ellis’s source is telling the truth.

President Obama has a lot to answer for. So do the mayors who have been overseeing the repressive operations locally.

DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new award-winning independent online alternative newspaper.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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