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WASHINGTON — December 2, 2011 — The United Nations envoy for freedom of expression is drafting an official communication to the U.S. government demanding to know why federal officials are not protecting the rights of Occupy demonstrators whose protests are being disbanded — sometimes violently — by local authorities.

Frank La Rue, who serves as the U.N. “special rapporteur" for the protection of free expression, told HuffPost in an interview that the crackdowns against Occupy protesters appear to be violating their human and constitutional rights.

"I believe in city ordinances and I believe in maintaining urban order," he said Thursday. "But on the other hand I also believe that the state — in this case the federal state — has an obligation to protect and promote human rights."

"If I were going to pit a city ordinance against human rights, I would always take human rights,” he continued.

La Rue, a longtime Guatemalan human rights activist who has held his U.N. post for three years, said it’s clear to him that the protesters have a right to occupy public spaces “as long as that doesn’t severely affect the rights of others.”

In moments of crisis, governments often default to a forceful response instead of a dialogue, he said — but that’s a mistake.

"Citizens have the right to dissent with the authorities, and there’s no need to use public force to silence that dissension," he said.

"One of the principles is proportionality," La Rue said. "The use of police force is legitimate to maintain public order — but there has to be a danger of real harm, a clear and present danger. And second, there has to be a proportionality of the force employed to prevent a real danger."

And history suggests that harsh tactics against social movements don’t work anyway, he said. In Occupy’s case, he said, “disbanding them by force won’t change that attitude of indignation.”

Occupy encampments across the country have been forcibly removed by police in full riot gear, and some protesters have been badly injured as a result of aggressive police tactics.

New York police staged a night raid on the original Occupy Wall Street encampment in mid-November, evicting sleeping demonstrators and confiscating vast amounts of property.

The Oakland Police Department fired tear gas, smoke grenades and bean-bag rounds at demonstrators there in late October, seriously injuring one Iraq War veteran at the Occupy site.

Earlier this week, Philadelphia and Los Angeles police stormed the encampments in their cities in the middle of the night, evicting and arresting hundreds of protesters.

Protesters at University of California, Davis were pepper sprayed by a campus police officer in November while participating in a sit-in, and in September an officer in New York pepper sprayed protesters who were legally standing on the sidewalk.

"We’re seeing widespread violations of fundamental First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights," said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-chair of a National Lawyers Guild committee, which has sent hundreds of volunteers to provide legal representation to Occupations across the nation.

"The demonstrations are treated as if they’re presumptively criminal," she said. "Instead of looking at free speech activity as an honored and cherished right that should be supported and facilitated, the reaction of local authorities and police is very frequently to look at it as a crime scene."

What they should do, Verheyden-Hilliard said, is make it their mission to allow the activity to continue.

Using the same lens placed on the Occupy movement to look at, say, the protest in Egypt, Verheyden-Hilliard said, observers would have focused on such issues as “Did the people in Tahrir Square have a permit?”

La Rue said the protesters are raising and addressing a fundamental issue. “There is legitimate reason to be indignant and angry about a crisis that was originated by greed and the personal interests of certain sectors,” he said. That’s especially the case when the bankers “still earn very hefty salaries and common folks are losing their homes.”

"In this case, the demonstrations are going to the center of the issue," he said. "These demonstrations are exactly challenging the basis of the debate."

Indeed, commentators such as Robert Scheer have argued that the Occupy movement’s citizen action has a particular justification, based on the government’s abject failure to hold banks accountable.

La Rue said he sees parallels between Occupy and the Arab Spring pro-democracy protests. In both cases, for instance, “you have high level of education for young people, but no opportunities.”

La Rue said he is in the process of writing what he called “an official communication” to the U.S. government “to ask what exactly is the position of the federal government in regards to understanding the human rights and constitutional rights vis-a-vis the use of local police and local authorities to disband peaceful demonstrations.”

Although the letter will not carry any legal authority, it reflects how the violent suppression of dissent threatens to damage the U.S.’s international reputation.

"I think it’s a dangerous spot in the sense of a precedent," La Rue said, expressing concern that the United States risks losing its credibility as a model democracy, particularly if the excessive use of force against peaceful protests continues.

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman welcomed the international scrutiny.

"We live in a much smaller, connected world than we ever did before, and just as Americans watch what goes on in Tahrir Square and in Syria, the whole world is watching us, too — and that’s a good thing," Lieberman said.

"We’re kind of confident that we’re living in the greatest democracy in the world, but when the international human rights world criticizes an American police officer for pepper spraying students who are sitting down, it rightly give us pause."

* * * * *

Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for The Huffington Post. You can send him an email, bookmark his page, subscribe to his RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get email alerts when he writes.

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This is well worth the read.

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A radical change in law to allow the use of the military inside the United States, against U.S. citizens and residents, and to allow their indefinite military detention based merely on suspicion of being engaged in hostilities against the U.S is being rushed through congress. This amendment, sponsored by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, was added in the senate after a closed door hearing and has received overwhelming bi-partisan support on the senate floor, with very little debate.

At the request of the White House, language that exempted American citizens and legal residents from indefinite military detention was removed from the bill passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, as Senator Levin said on the senate floor.

This is a major shift for a country that has largely forbidden the use of the military domestically under the Posse Comitatus Act since it passed in 1878 during the Reconstruction Era. There have been holes in the domestic use of the military, primarily in drug enforcement.  Indeed, I worked on one case involving Esequiel Hernandez, an innocent 18 year old high school student killed while herding the family goats on the Texas-Mexican border by a 19 year old Marine on drug patrol in 1997.  The Hernandez killing showed why the U.S. military is the wrong tool for enforcement inside the United States and raises questions for young soldiers ordered to turn their weapons on Americans.

On December 9, Occupy Washington, DC on Freedom Plaza had a discussion on the Department of Justice’s responsibility to uphold the rule of law when it comes to human rights’ abuses by the military and CIA such as torture and the killing of civilians.  During that discussion, Ray McGovern, a retired 27 year veteran of the CIA, who provided the morning intelligence briefing to multiple presidents and security advisers, said that he thought the provisions allowing domestic use of the military and military detention were being added because of fear of civil unrest at home. 

As the world rises up against economic injustice, Truthout brings you the latest news and analysis, free of corporate influence. Help support this work with a tax-deductible donation today.

The Tea Party and Occupy Movement are signs of an American revolt – a revolt against a corrupt government that funnels wealth to the top 1% while leaving Americans economically insecure.  When I asked McGovern about this, he said he could not see any reason for the domestic use of the military except for the fear of the elites:

“I think it may be fear.  They worry that the DC police, Park Police, even Capitol Police will be subverted into seeing that they are really part of the 99%; that when push comes to shove (literally) they cannot be relied upon to carry out mass arrests/imprisonments; that the powers-that-be need to be able to call on the Army, which can be more dependably relied upon to carry out whatever bloody orders may be required at the time.”

In fact, there have been examples of police being critical of their orders and not participating in efforts to arrest or remove occupiers. In Albany, NY police refused to arrest occupiers saying they were not causing any trouble. In Baltimore, the police union endorsed Occupy Baltimore and urged the mayor to let them stay. Retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis went to Zucotti Park to urge police to join the occupiers. When a police commander in New York pepper sprayed kettled women, you can hear another police officer saying on the video tape, “I can’t believe he just pepper sprayed her.” Oakland police officer Fred Shavies who had gone undercover against the Occupy Movement now says he supports it and knows police are part of the 99%. 

From the beginning at Freedom Plaza, we have described the police as part of the 99%. Police have mostly treated us with respect; some have even made financial donations to our effort.  Those police who abuse their power will create more divides among police and pull more to our side because most know we only seek fairness, justice and participatory democracy.

But, will the military obey orders to shoot Americans or make mass arrests of non-violent civilian protesters?  That is an open question. There is dissent in the military as well.  United States Marine Corps. Sgt. Shamar Thomas from Roosevelt, NY told New York City police, in a widely watched, now iconic video, there is no heroism in attacking unarmed civilians. No doubt many who have volunteered to serve in the military feel the same way as Sgt. Thomas.

The vague language of the amendment allows the military to be used against protesters.  In subsection A of Section 1032 it states that the military can be used against people (including U.S. citizens) that “are substantially supporting, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; or (B) have engaged in hostilities or have directly supported hostilities in aid of a nation, organization, or person described in subparagraph (A).  The key, vague words are “substantially supporting” “associated forces” “engaged in hostilities” “in aid of a . . . organization or person.”  There is a lot of flexibility in those words and when they apply – no need for probable cause, a trial, jury verdict or sentencing – just on suspicion you get indefinite military detention.

The military’s role in the United States has been growing. In 2002 President Bush established NorthCom, a military command inside the United States based in Colorado with additional bases in Alaska, Florida, Texas, Virginia and the DC area. On October 1, 2008, the 3rd Infantry Division (United States)’s 1st Brigade Combat Team was assigned to U.S. Northern Command, marking the first time an active unit had been given a dedicated assignment to Northern Command.  In 2008, the Pentagon announced plans to deploy 20,000 troops inside the United States, set to be trained by 2011. The change in law in the new Defense Authorization comes at a time of rapidly creeping domestic military expansion.

Could the elites actually see protesters seeking a participatory democracy who challenge concentrated wealth as terrorists?  Well, in a December 2, 2011 a document issued by City of London police entitled a “Terrorism/extremism Update” given to London businesses, the police defined Occupy London as a terrorist group.  In the section on domestic terrorism the Occupy Movement and other critics of capitalism were singled out as terrorists.  As the Guardian reported the document said: “As the worldwide Occupy movement shows no sign of abating, it is likely that activists aspire to identify other locations to occupy, especially those they identify with capitalism.” The document went on to say that police had “received a number of hostile reconnaissance reports concerning individuals who would fit the anti-capitalist profile,” and asked businesses to be “vigilant for further sign of occupation activity.”

When the Guardian asked the police about the document rather than apologizing, they defended it saying the “City of London police works with the community to deter and detect terrorist activity and crime in the City in a way that has been identified nationally as good practice . . . We’ve seen crime linked to protests in recent weeks, notably around groups entering office buildings, and with that in mind we continue to brief key trusted partners on activity linked to protests.” While the terrorist label has not been applied to U.S. occupiers, the counterterrorism unit of the NYPD has been used at Zucotti Park.

The Occupy Movement is in its infancy, less than three months old, and already it has the elites petrified.  As a top Republican pollster, Frank Luntz, told a Republican Governors meeting last week, I’m “scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death.”  The Tea Party, which has its roots in similar economic insecurity and economic unfairness has for the most part been co-opted by the Republican Party and lost its energy, but the Occupy Movement has resisted co-option by the Democratic Party and its operatives.

The Occupy Movement, despite more than 5,100 arrests and aggressive police actions across the country, is not going anywhere.  In fact, it strives to become an even bigger movement and more powerful political force.  Plans are being made to bring occupiers from across the country to Washington, DC for an American Spring. If the elites are scared now, what will it be like when this movement grows and matures?

This is all occurring when economic insecurity is getting worse.  The economy is not done collapsing, critical resources are getting more limited and hence more expensive, the greed of the elites seems unquenchable, the global economy means that the middle class will have a hard time getting decent paying jobs as more jobs are shipped to less expensive labor markets and the very limited social safety net is under attack while poverty rises.  The elites know they are not solving critical problems, are incapable of doing so because of their own corruption and that the political system cannot respond.  As economic insecurity gets worse, the economic unfairness becomes more evident resulting in growing anger and action.

It is not that the economic problems are unsolvable. When Occupy Washington, DC held its own Occupied Super Committee hearings and asked experts to put forward evidence-based solutions to the economic mess, they did so.  By facing up to the 1% and the military industrial complex, we achieved the super committee’s deficit reduction targets in two years, created millions of jobs, forgave student debt, restored the housing market and began to democratize the economy.  Knowing solutions exist, but the dysfunctional government cannot implement them will lead to more Americans joining the Occupy Movement.

One of the gravest grievances described in the Declaration of Independence was the misuse of standing armies against the colonialists.  Numerous state constitutions declared standing armies a threat to liberty and the U.S. Constitution showed antipathy to militarism. Now, the Congress and President Obama are prepared to turn the military against Americans and allow indefinite military detention without any finding of guilt.  If the elites think military force against Americans will quell the revolt of the people they are wrong; it will have the opposite effect and fuel the revolt against the elites.

Wednesday, December 14th is a national day of action against the use of the military in the United States.

More Information:
Christopher A. Andrews, Behind Closed Doors: Congress Trying to Force Indefinite Detention Bill on Americans, Huffington Post,  December 9, 2011.

David Kopel, Defense bill will allow President to indefinitely detain American citizens, The Volokh Conspiracy, November 30, 2011.

Glenn Greenwald, Congress endorsing military detention, a new AUMF, Salon, December 1, 2011.

Coleen Rowley, BRINGING the War on Terror Home, Consortium News, December 4, 2011.

Matt Taibbi, Indefinite Detention of American Citizens: Coming Soon to Battlefield U.S.A., Rolling Stone, December 9, 2011.

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I am going to post a series of photos that others have taken of the protesters - these are attractive, photogenic, mediagenic people. And yet almost none of these images have been selected by the mainstream media to represent the protesters. Instead, the media appears to almost be selecting images which are designed to seem “other” and to not create a sense of empathy or identification among the audiences.

In other words, if the mainstream media posted more pictures of protesters who resembled our sisters, brothers, children, ourselves then there would be a greater likelihood that we would identify with the protesters, and would likely join then at an #occupy protest.

georgiahruby:

This is what the NYPD does to children’s art right in front of the children.

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This is why we protest.

i-la:

Protester stripped to her underwear by police.

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Posted without comment.

Posted without comment.

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Being mayor of New York is awesome, Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday during a speech at MIT.

“I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world,” Bloomberg said, according to the New York Observer. “I have my own State Department, much to Foggy Bottom’s annoyance. We have the United Nations in New York, and so we have an entree into the diplomatic world that Washington does not have.”

What a town! Bloomberg’s right, though. In September, NYPD Comissioner Ray Kelly told CBS News that his police force could take down an airplane “in a very extreme situation.” We don’t know by what means, of course.

Bloomberg went on to say that cities and mayors — unlike politicians in the beltway — can actually get things done.

“The difference between my level of government and other levels of government is that action takes place at the city level,” Bloomberg said. “The cities and mayors are where you deal with crime, you deal with real immigration problems, you deal with health problems, you deal with picking up the garbage.”

The Observer reports that Bloomberg’s speech at times seemed to flirt with the idea of a White House bid, an ambition the three-term mayor has long denied.

Read more here.

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A protester at #OccupyOakland exhibits a massive raised bruise caused by the Oakland Police Department’s projectile weapons.
These same “sub-lethal” weapons were used by the Oakland Police Department against Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, fracturing his skull and causing injuries which required doctors to induce a coma.
In 2006, Boston Police used rubber bullets on a crowd on students after the Red Sox won the World Series, killing 21 year old Emerson College student Victoria Snelgrove because one of the bullets caught her in the eye.
This is what a police state looks like.

A protester at #OccupyOakland exhibits a massive raised bruise caused by the Oakland Police Department’s projectile weapons.

These same “sub-lethal” weapons were used by the Oakland Police Department against Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, fracturing his skull and causing injuries which required doctors to induce a coma.

In 2006, Boston Police used rubber bullets on a crowd on students after the Red Sox won the World Series, killing 21 year old Emerson College student Victoria Snelgrove because one of the bullets caught her in the eye.

This is what a police state looks like.

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THAT’S WHY THEY HAD THE MEDIA POOL

Ruth Fowler's picture

I was in the inner arrestee circle in Solidarity Park until the very last minute. I tweeted continually from 9pm until 5.30am, yet I have seven hours of tweets missing from my twitter feed. I was in the Park when the Police came in from within City Hall. They were not violent. Neither were we. They called unlawful assembly.

No bad treatment of protestors occurred while the mainstream media was watching - it was only at the end that this occurred, when the non pool reporters were separated from the pool media, and the reporters not in the pool were shoved and hit by cops.

At this point I left, but other non-pool media refused to leave and wanted to stay reporting on the scene. Jared Iorio, our photographer, stayed for fifteen minutes after me and was hit repeatedly (twice) in the chest with a baton by a policeman until he left Solidarity Park. He joined a group of about 600 people on 1st and Main. After half an hour of being pushed back, the police called an unlawful assembly over the megaphone, and asked us to move or we would be arrested.

Approximately 300 of us walked down 1st towards Los Angeles, leaving 300 left standing by the cops.  The police moved in after us, and kettled the 300 left behind. Seeing this, we ran, as a group, a couple of blocks to get away from them, losing people all along the way. Then suddenly a group of police emerged. We were blocked (kettled) in on Alameda between second and first. The police started running towards us - the group was now about 100 people by this point - and everyone ran into a parking lot to escape. The police ran after them and started beating protestors with batons repeatedly as they were running away trying to escape. I saw about ten police hit protestors. I did not get video footage nor photographs as I was running.

Jared, me and three others escaped up first street and ran to Skid Row. None of the protestors I was with had been violent, none had destroyed property, none were even tormenting the police. They were running away from the scene, trying to avoid being kettled by the police. The violence I witnessed was pretty intense. Those cops were pissed and wanted to hurt people. They were running and beating people who were simply RUNNING away, trying to escape!

I sent this to The Guardian and The LA Times just now. It’s not well written. But it highlights the frighteningly militant tactics enacted by LAPD tonight. The Media Pool I revealed late last night, written about in this great LA Weekly article, and on the front page of yesterday’s Los Angeles Times:

The city’s concern about its image was underscored Monday when police announced they would be allowing only a small group of print, television and radio journalists past police lines when the eviction is finally carried out. Police said the rules were to protect journalists from being harmed during the operation.

This media pool drew mainstream media into the inner circle, where they were treated to a display of courteous policing and nonviolence by the police. Even I was impressed by the police. The operation was smooth and efficient and tactical.

Then the pool media was divided from the regular media, and kept in the inner circle. They were not present to witness the brutality and violence enacted by LAPD officers who were kettling and running after protestors in order to beat them outside the park and mainstream media attention. LAPD smoothly kept MSM from witnessing this, and tried to control other media by constant kettling and dividing of the crowd. The Mainstream Media were deliberately obstructed from reporting, and were complicit in their own silencing - as this updated extract from the LA Weekly makes horrifically clear:


Update No. 4: So KCAL9 was running an awesome aerial live stream of the massive deployment of 1,000-plus LAPD officers from Dodger Stadium to City Hall. But then — get this — they reportedly stopped the stream because they had “made an agreement with LAPD not to reveal their tactics,” and wanted to protect the integrity of the operation.

Tonight was tactical, it was efficient - and it quite clearly violated our First Amendment Rights, not only by violating our right to petition for a redress of grievances, but by manipulating and censoring the media, so that they were unable to cover the violence and abuses being carried out by the LAPD on peaceful protestors not under the MSM’s eye.


Tonight has radicalized many people, and highlighted the true nature of City Council, LAPD and Mayor Villaraigosa. Villaraigosa is an expert politician, who has no interest in our grievances, our demands and our movement. He, like so many Angelenos in the Film Industry, only cares about portraying the necessary image to advance his own agenda. When the cameras are turned off, he doesn’t need to act anymore. And then the violence and abuse starts.