Police, Experts, Attorneys, and a Harbor Towers Resident Discuss Boston's Handling of Occupy Protests

First of all, I want to say that everyone feels just awful about the polite woman who lives in Harbor Towers, and who had to sit in traffic for a full half-hour one day last Fall on account of Occupy Boston marching down Atlantic Ave. In a way, she's a bold representation of all the apathetic martyrs who've been inconvenienced by the countless people who are standing up for jobs and civil rights. I can only imagine how much courage that it took for her to air out her complaint today at Suffolk University, where the law school's Rappaport Center held a roundtable addressing how cities nationwide have responded to Occupy.

The forum was led by Brooklyn College Professor Alex Vitale, whose work on police response and crowd control pre-dates Occupy Wall Street, but has taken on a whole new significance since September 17. Vitale has crunched numbers – relative to the nature of patrols and arrests – that he culled from news reports, which he presented today along with info on some general hallmarks of police-versus-Occupy showdowns nationwide, such as the hypocritical tendency to condemn protesters for sanitation while at the same time denying them the tools to clean camps.

Vitale offered a heap of intriguing research, the most interesting of which was a well-thought dismissal of theories claiming that coordinated crackdowns – ordered by federal authorities – were orchestrated nationwide against Occupy. While there's anecdotal evidence to the contrary – conference calls that were held between mayors, for example, as well as the direct involvement of Homeland Security operatives at some encampments – Vitale's point, that cities do what they do when they want to do it, certainly makes sense. Especially in Boston, where everyone knows that Hizzoner calls the shots.

While the mayor didn't make the Suffolk talk, two city lawyers were on hand to lob weak arguments at Ben Wish, an attorney with the firm Todd & Weld who represented Occupy Boston in its quest to keep police out of Dewey Square. At one point, Boston assistant corporation counsel Raquel Webster went so far as to allege that the city had to evict Occupy Boston, since MassCann organizers were vying for similar long-term accommodations for their Freedom Rally on the Common. “They wanted to stay there forever and smoke marijuana,” said Webster, straight-faced.

Boston Police Department Superintendent-in-Chief Daniel Linskey, the force's designated lead man for Occupy Boston, also came to voice his side of events. In line with the BPD's relatively sensitive treatment of Occupiers – particularly in comparison with out west – Linskey handled the situation professionally, even making the crowd laugh several times throughout his talk. Any Dewey Square expats who were looking for a compliment from BPD finally got one: “The members of Occupy Boston,” admitted Linskey, “actually did a good job of policing themselves.” His main complaint, however, was the movement's lack of a central contact point and its total unpredictability. Tell me about it brother!

As I observed in several West Coast cities, police brutality against peaceful protesters is a whole different, much more despicable animal in places like Oakland and Seattle. Vitale confirms what many have hunched about the foul crackdowns on the Pacific; since authorities in Washington were caught off guard in 1999, during the massive and effective protests against the World Trade Organization, they've adopted increasingly aggressive pre-emptive tactics. More than a decade later, in 2012, storm trooper get-ups are the norm in many places, though some cities, including Boston, were smart enough during Occupy to dress their enforcers in baseball hats, while keeping the riot gear nearby just in case.

This sort of forum is essential – particularly in a place like the Hub, where relations between authorities and protesters remain somewhat civilized. Still the bigger issue is completely unresolved, as I've yet to see a symposium where bankers answer for their behavior, and where mortgage hucksters discuss their response to Occupy. At one point, Linsky said that his officers were simply doing their jobs, enforcing the law. I would argue that such an arbitrary process of holding only some citizens accountable for perceived crimes is irresponsible if not classist, as cops have gone pretty damn lightly on the crooks in the skyscrapers above Dewey Square. As a society, we seem to be past that conversation. But that doesn't make it any less important.

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