By now, all of us know what happened very early Tuesday morning: Hundreds of police officers, armed with riot gear, batons, and pepper spray, and equipped with bulldozers, raided Zuccotti Park in the middle of the night to force out the Occupy Wall Street protesters. What readers of mainstream media outlets like the New York Times may have missed is a message that the protesters chanted to anyone watching the OWS live feed at 1:20 Tuesday morning: This is what a police state looks like. The legal issues regarding who—if anyone—had the authority to expel OWS protesters are murky and will be best decided by challenges currently pending in court. But the manner in which Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD suddenly and brutally raided the park is crystal clear, extremely frightening, and blatantly unconstitutional. First Amendment violations were not restricted to freedom of assembly. Bloomberg also trampled on freedoms of speech and the press. During the NYPD's invasion of the park, members of the press were barred from entering and prevented from informing the public of the events. Police refused to respect press credentials, tellingly responding to one who claimed: "I'm press!" with "Not tonight," and—chillingly—arresting at least seven journalists from outlets such the New York Times, the New York Daily News, and the Associated Press. A CBS helicopter that tried to cover the eviction aerially was forced to leave the airspace over the park by the NYPD, depriving the world of a view of what, exactly, the police were doing. Barring press from covering stories and arresting them when they attempt to do so is something we often see in repressive regimes from Saudi Arabia to Russia. It is something we do not expect, something we will not accept, and something we will resist in New York. In order to "clean" the park, the police used pepper spray and tactics forceful enough that, when New York City Council member Ydanis Rodriquez was arrested Tuesday morning at Zuccotti Park, he was bleeding from the head. When the police wake hundreds of peaceful, unarmed, sleeping protesters for a middle-of-the-night raid while blocking media coverage, they do not protect public safety—they imperil it. The assertion that the park needed to be cleaned by force in the dead of night sounds all the more ridiculous (if possible) because protesters and supporters did an excellent job of tidying the park themselves the last time Bloomberg claimed the need to institute martial cleaning. But the mayor learned from the egg thrown at his face from that episode, and gave no warning when the police moved Tuesday morning. The double-talk surrounding the police raid was incredibly Orwellian. The police closed the Brooklyn Bridge and shut down almost all of the subway stations leading to Zuccotti Park. Multiple activists reported on Twitter that the subway stations were supposedly closed for "cleaning" at the same time as the raid on the protest—a blatant attempt to stop reinforcements from pouring in. It's never a good sign when the police storm in under the cover of darkness and throw away thousands of books, as the NYPD did with at People's Library Tuesday morning. The Mayor's Office continued to violate the law this morning, when it ignored a court restraining order requiring the NYPD to allow protesters to return to Zuccotti Park. The Mayor and NYPD's outright flouting of the legal and judicial system is downright terrifying, and we must not allow it to pass unchallenged. Despite the late hour of the surprise attack and the lack of organization, at least 10 Columbia students braved the subway outages to head downtown and support the occupiers, proving that the recent activism on campus is strong enough to pull students out at 4 a.m. on a school night. Rather than symbolizing the end of a movement, the raid demonstrates the need to strengthen the activist spirit, both on campus and around the country. At the impromptu general assembly which sprang up in Foley Square overnight, protesters confirmed that they will continue with mass demonstrations planned for Thursday, Nov. 17, the two-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Columbia students have the chance, the reason, and the duty to participate, now more than ever. Occupy Wall Street is still about the unfair inequality of our political and economic systems, but it is no longer about that alone. Our First Amendment rights are now under attack. We will be reoccupying. We will be reorganizing. Be ready to join us. Anyone who cares about preserving democracy and the rule of law should be protesting this Thursday. You can't evict an idea whose time has come. Janine Balekdjian is a Columbia College junior majoring in Slavic Studies with a concentration in sociology. She is the president of the Columbia Democrats. Sarah Gitlin is a Columbia College junior majoring in political science. She is the Columbia Democrat's media director.
Columbia Spectator Staff