Last weekend I watched and read about the aftermath of the Oakland police department's decision to forcibly remove camped out protesters. At the time this struck me as a very strange choice on the part of the city. The Storm Troopers of America approach to dispersing peaceful crowds is public relations suicide when every cell phone is a still and video camera. To wit, it didn't take long for video of the serious wounding of a protester and Iraq War veteran to contradict the official line that he was injured by other protesters throwing rocks and bottles. Even absent anything exceptional happening, the standard "cops beating and tear gassing people" footage tends to reflect poorly on city leaders.

Our government at every level makes decisions with public relations in mind and a media strategy in place. This media strategy seemed odd to say the least. Police have learned a few tricks since Chicago '68, namely how to break up crowds without resorting to medieval battle tactics. There are ways to deal with "noncompliant" people that don't produce these Twitter-friendly pics of projectile injuries (If you've ever been paintballing, you know goddamn well what that person's bruise is from.) Cops are not renowned for their brilliance, but someone in the room when this decision was made had to be smart enough to realize that this was a PR blunder in the making.

Looking back, that was something of a naive reaction on my part. Just as the removal of the protesters had nothing to do with permits or whatever official excuse is proffered, the use of force in doing it has nothing to do with the nature of the protest. It's about a different kind of public relations. Police appear with their full array of paramilitary gear for the same reason that people painted their faces and chanted before going to battle thousands of years ago. It's about intimidation and sending a message about who is in charge.

Sure, there's an initial wave of bad publicity when the images hit the news. But people forget quickly, and the story becomes just another reminder to know one's place. Never forget who is in charge or what awaits you if you challenge it, however ineffectually. Then the media goes to work, encouraging the usual victim blaming mentality – If the police told them to leave and they didn't, then anything the police did to them is their own fault, you see – and smear tactics (Dirty hippies! Potheads! Anarchists! Malcontents!) to convince about a third of us that it's a damn good thing that the police did what they did. The suburbanites terrified of the outside world and the blue hairs who love nothing more than young, preferably brown people being arrested make up the bulk of this group. It also includes the elites who see the police for exactly what they are – the security force of the status quo. It's not a huge group of people in total, but they vote and elected officials care what they think.

There is a message. In the short term, the message is that the police are out of control. In the long term, it's that they are firmly in control. They got what they wanted and the protesters didn't. As someone put it many years ago, "Go back to bed, America! Your government is in control. Keep drinking beer, you morons. Watch Love Connection or something. Get fat and stupid."

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23 thoughts on “SHOW OF FORCE”

  • I think you're being just a bit too cynical. In every poll out there, the vast majority of Americans side with OWS, or at the very least, believe they have the right to continue their protests. It's not like people aren't realizing the police are being major assholes. Look at the progress already being made.

    OWS using the court system to get the governor of Tennessee to back off.

    Also, look at more student loan reform from Obama. Look at BoA backing off the $5 fee for debit card usage. Stop fucking pouting, there is a chance for real progress in the near future.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    Your average is quite high and this one is way up there. Despite polls showing support for OWS, the beer drinkers still divide half and half between the corrupt Democrats and the flat earth, 17 guns per drinker, hang them fascist GOP. So much for progress.

    In Oakland we see an old white people's friend. Look at the video: in vastly black city, the police is white wall to wall. Despite a progressive mayor, and a history of progressive mayors, the Oakland police is a violent racial force. They didn't start last week.

    The white reactionary media is always GOP friendly. The Washington Post is Fox news well behaved. The NYT always finds a way to tilts right.

    The way back is long and arduous. There are still a large and fat middle class and they are scared as hell. Please don't take away their Bloomy credit card.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Speaking of 1968, remember this classic from Mayor Daley:

    "The police are not here to create disorder, they're here to preserve disorder."

    'Nuff said!

  • As someone put it many years ago, "Go back to bed, America! Your government is in control. Keep drinking beer, you morons. Watch Love Connection or something. Get fat and stupid."

    Who's the "someone?" I'm intrigued, would love to know the source of that quote.

  • Bill Hicks:
    I'll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here. "I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs." "I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking." "Hey, wait a minute, there's one guy holding out both puppets!" "Shut up! Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control. Here's Love Connection. Watch this and get fat and stupid. By the way, keep drinking beer, you fucking morons."

    also, from a different show, a variant:
    Go back to bed, America. Your government has figured out how it all transpired. Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control again. Here. Here's American Gladiators. Watch this, shut up. Go back to bed, America. Here is American Gladiators. Here is 56 channels of it! Watch these pituitary retards bang their fucking skulls together and congratulate you on living in the land of freedom. Here you go, America! You are free to do as we tell you! You are free to do what we tell you!

  • The Oakland PD has been like this since the 60s. They cut their teeth on the Black Panther wars, and they used real bullets.

  • I think it also bears mention that, while Ed's dour predictions may be right in the long run (and certainly have played out many times in America and other countries), they may also be wrong, and aren't true yet.

    Occupy Oakland is still very much alive, and it will take a lot more PR-risky police brutality to take it down:

  • Well, that guy's bruise on his side is from a beanbag fired at close range, not a rubber bullet:

    The various rubber bullets (rubber over steel) are all small – they leave small, really nasty wounds and bruises. So anyway, that guy's wound is evidence of being shot with a beanbag (which would be considered a deadly weapon if you shot it at a cop), not a rubber bullet.

  • "They got what they wanted and the protesters didn't. "

    Not really. I drove past the Plaza this morning taking my kid to school and it was half-full of tents again, and not a cop in sight.

    The police riot was in response to the demonstrators attempting to re-occupy the Plaza. Now they have re-occupied the Plaza. Therefore, the cops ultimately lost.

    Mayor Quan blew it badly on this one. Too bad she's stuck presiding over this clusterfuck, because she's not all that bad. (Well, don't blame me, I worked/voted for Nancy Nadel.)

  • My crappy little municipality has two guys standing with signs in a park across from the federal building and next to city hall. I gave em a thumbs up today driving by, I'm sure they get a lot of middle fingers cuz this is Tea Party turf. Thought about showing up to one of the weekend events but it would mean leaving my dog home alone, because there's no way I'm allowing some cop to take him from me because he finds me violating some ordinance. Perhaps it seems petty but for all the folks who can afford to demonstrate I'm guessing there are a lot of other people who would like to but can't spare the time away from work, family, or other responsibilities. I've been searching out stories for protest movements in other countries just to compare… in Hong Kong for example a bunch of people (in suits no less) showed up to picket a grocery store that was selling unhealthy and falsely labeled fish. I think the American suburban lifestyle discourages such movements and keeps the public pacified and isolated in their boxlike residences, watching their televisions, detached from suffering, crime, war, reality.

    I lived in Oakland for three years. Once while exiting the Lake Merritt BART station I observed two police officers directing a homeless guy and his shopping cart full of belongings into the elevator and therefore out of Oakland. Their words to him were basically, "we don't care where you go but you can't stay here."

  • @Ike: I lived in Oakland for six years, and I still regularly ride BART. In fact, I'll be riding it home this afternoon after work. One can get on BART at Lake Merritt station, ride a good 10-15 minutes in any direction, get off the train, and still be in Oakland.

  • @Andrew. I guess I never thought of that. Nevertheless, the officer's words were pretty much, "get out of Oakland."

    I was always amused to be driving along through Oakland, then enter another "city," then leave it and re-enter Oakland. Makes for very confusing road names.

  • I continue to believe that the primary difference between cops and the people they pursue is that cops managed to make it through the police academy before they got caught.

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