Occupy Wall Street And The Police: Why So Estranged?

Last year, as OWS kicked off, and as New York’s Finest (and later California’s) began their usual heavy-handed crackdown on any dissent that might threaten the ruling classes, I was struck by the absurdity of it all. Once again, the plutocratic class had found a sub-class of workers–underpaid and overworked–who ostensibly should have been in sympathy with protesters of those economic and political realities that conspired to keep them in a state of perpetual economic and political subjugation, and had them do the dirty work of repressing them. Once again, a comfortable protective barrier had been built around the privileged enclaves of the rich and fatuous, manned and patrolled by those whose best interests lay in dismantling it. The best and most enduring political parlor trick was on display again, and it didn’t seem to have lost its effectiveness over the years.

No matter how long one theorizes about it, to see the game in action, to see its visceral absurdity on display is something else. There they are, the working class sons and daughters of working class men and women, clubbing, gassing, and shooting (rubber bullets at UC-Riverside, anyone?) those that have taken up cudgels on their behalf, those whose struggles, if successful, would ensure the clubbers, shooters, and gassers would be politically and economically empowered, and perhaps be able to ensure a better life for their future generations. Five months after OWS kicked off, five months after discourse about economic inequality has bubbled up in possibly more prominent spaces and forums than ever before, there is no sign America’s currently serving police have shown any inclination to hear, pay attention, and possibly join, a political struggle in their best interests.

Tragedy, farce, or some combination thereof, I think.

Last October, when I joined several thousand others in marching through Wall Street and its surrounding confines, I would often yell out to the wary and skeptical New York City policemen that stood close by, “What was your last contract like?” or “You should be marching with us” or “Wall Street won’t stand up for you” and so on. I’m not sure if any policemen heard me or cared. But that’s no way to be heard, of course. The need for communication with the police, for outreach directed at them, for the discourse surrounding OWS to be funneled directly at the police, written somehow, in a form that makes it relevant to their lived realities is greater than ever.

In a recent interview with 3AM, Brian Leiter said,

An important strategic question for the Occupy movement concerns the police. The police are, themselves, members of the 99%, indeed the 99.9%. Police labor unions remain strong, despite a three-decade long campaign against labor unions in the United States. As unionized workers, the interests of police lie with the Occupy Movement, not the plutocrats. On the day the police refuse to clear “Occupy” protesters from their sites, that will be the day the game is up for the plutocracy in America. It would behoove the Occupy activists, indeed any opponents of the plutocracy, to remember this.

This is close to being as absolutely and totally correct as any contemporary political statement could be.

5 thoughts on “Occupy Wall Street And The Police: Why So Estranged?

  1. I totally agree. But when you criticize people for not acting in their own interests, it is also worth keeping in mind that some rich and comfortable people also do not act in their own interests, when they support liberal causes for moral reasons. Why people (don’t) support certain things is a complex matter on both ends of the spectrum.

    1. Hi James,

      Thanks for the comment (and good to see you here!). Indeed, the unpacking of motivations seem to be particularly intractable in the case of politically-directed ones. Voting patterns in recent US elections are a particularly good example of this!

  2. Perhaps this is part of the problem:


    So, they aren’t the top 1%, but, for example, UCPD top brass are in the top 20% of households, but the top 7% per capita.

    Rank and file are in the top 30% of households, but the top 11% per capita..

    And taking overtime pay to beat up protesters is a good way to take them, as in the case of officer Chon, from the top 30% to the top 10% of households. Per capita, you’re looking at at least the top 5%.

    Throw in a spouse making 60k/yr and officer Chon, with overtime pay, would be in the top 5% of households.

    Do you think there’s any overtime pay in investigating financial malfeasance for a cop?

    What’s a better source of upward mobility? Beating protesters for ~20k/yr in overtime pay when the kids are out being rowdy, or refusing to police protests and trying to negotiate a better contract?

    Note also that cops can bring in lots of money on the side through paid detail units, contracted and paid an average of $37/hr by, say, the banks, with insurance against injury and legal liability covered by the public.


    As unionized workers, their interests lie with the 99%.
    As paid enforcers, their interests lie with the 1%.

    I don’t think it’s so clear what the ‘objective interest’ of the police is.

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