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Norm Stamper, Former Chief Of SPD: Paramilitary Policing From Seattle to Occupy Wall Street

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posted on Nov, 18 2011 @ 03:33 PM
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TheNation.com

Reflecting on his command during the protests in 1999 against the WTO:


“We have to clear the intersection,” said the field commander. “We have to clear the intersection,” the operations commander agreed, from his bunker in the Public Safety Building. Standing alone on the edge of the crowd, I, the chief of police, said to myself, “We have to clear the intersection.”

Why?

Because of all the what-ifs. What if a fire breaks out in the Sheraton across the street? What if a woman goes into labor on the seventeenth floor of the hotel? What if a heart patient goes into cardiac arrest in the high-rise on the corner? What if there’s a stabbing, a shooting, a serious-injury traffic accident? How would an aid car, fire engine or police cruiser get through that sea of people? The cop in me supported the decision to clear the intersection. But the chief in me should have vetoed it. And he certainly should have forbidden the indiscriminate use of tear gas to accomplish it, no matter how many warnings we barked through the bullhorn.

My support for a militaristic solution caused all hell to break loose. Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict. The “Battle in Seattle,” as the WTO protests and their aftermath came to be known, was a huge setback—for the protesters, my cops, the community.


I really do understand the incredibly difficult positions our police are under during times of civil unrest. I believe with my whole heart that there are more good cops than bad cops. I can't ever know what it is like to have to choose between backing up and protecting a fellow officer who in turn backs up and protects me and saying something when I see lines being crossed. TV even tells us that to rat out a fellow officer is to forever be branded a rat, I believe that is probably something TV doesn't exaggerate. However, that leaves us, the citizens, with a huge problem.


More than a decade later, the police response to the Occupy movement, most disturbingly visible in Oakland—where scenes resembled a war zone and where a marine remains in serious condition from a police projectile—brings into sharp relief the acute and chronic problems of American law enforcement. Seattle might have served as a cautionary tale, but instead, US police forces have become increasingly militarized, and it’s showing in cities everywhere: the NYPD “white shirt” coating innocent people with pepper spray, the arrests of two student journalists at Occupy Atlanta, the declaration of public property as off-limits and the arrests of protesters for “trespassing.”

The paramilitary bureaucracy and the culture it engenders—a black-and-white world in which police unions serve above all to protect the brotherhood—is worse today than it was in the 1990s. Such agencies inevitably view protesters as the enemy. And young people, poor people and people of color will forever experience the institution as an abusive, militaristic force—not just during demonstrations but every day, in neighborhoods across the country.

Much of the problem is rooted in a rigid command-and-control hierarchy based on the military model. American police forces are beholden to archaic internal systems of authority whose rules emphasize bureaucratic regulations over conduct on the streets. An officer’s hair length, the shine on his shoes and the condition of his car are more important than whether he treats a burglary victim or a sex worker with dignity and respect. In the interest of “discipline,” too many police bosses treat their frontline officers as dependent children, which helps explain why many of them behave more like juvenile delinquents than mature, competent professionals. It also helps to explain why persistent, patterned misconduct, including racism, sexism, homophobia, brutality, perjury and corruption, do not go away, no matter how many blue-ribbon panels are commissioned or how much training is provided.


That sounds like indoctrination.


External political factors are also to blame, such as the continuing madness of the drug war. Last year police arrested 1.6 million nonviolent drug offenders. In New York City alone almost 50,000 people (overwhelmingly black, Latino or poor) were busted for possession of small amounts of marijuana—some of it, we have recently learned, planted by narcotics officers. The counterproductive response to 9/11, in which the federal government began providing military equipment and training even to some of the smallest rural departments, has fueled the militarization of police forces. Everyday policing is characterized by a SWAT mentality, every other 911 call a military mission. What emerges is a picture of a vital public-safety institution perpetually at war with its own people. The tragic results—raids gone bad, wrong houses hit, innocent people and family pets shot and killed by police—are chronicled in Radley Balko’s excellent 2006 report Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America.

It is ironic that those police officers who are busting up the Occupy protesters are themselves victims of the same social ills the demonstrators are combating: corporate greed; the slackening of essential regulatory systems; and the abject failure of all three branches of government to safeguard civil liberties and to protect, if not provide, basic human needs like health, housing, education and more. With cities and states struggling to balance the budget while continuing to deliver public safety, many cops are finding themselves out of work. And, as many Occupy protesters have pointed out, even as police officers help to safeguard the power and profits of the 1 percent, police officers are part of the 99 percent.


Who better to expose what is wrong with the policing system in our country? The article goes on to explain when force is justified and then he offers his own personal solutions. I think it's well worth a read but I also found a video of a recent interview with him on democracynow.org discussing the paramilitarization of our police.

I am really concerned and honestly, scared watching all of this police violence toward Occupy protesters. I know many of you despise the movement and the protesters but I hope you can at least acknowledge that we are in serious trouble here.

How long until it goes one step further and a protester is killed? How long after that until you are beaten for running a stop sign?

I wonder how many officers wish they could come forward or wish things would change? I wonder how many officers wish they had known before hand how corrupt it all is.




posted on Nov, 18 2011 @ 03:40 PM
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very good post . your point is one i had just made and will say again.

the occupy movement is for the 99% that is you and me everyone who pays taxes, weather you agree with some of the protestors points or not we as americans should learn from this.
we have no choices our pre-approved elections got us where we are now the only way to change things is occupy and remove all those in power who have allowed this country to get down to its knees slowly but surely over the last 100years.
edit on 11/18/2011 by -W1LL because: sp U



posted on Nov, 18 2011 @ 04:28 PM
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reply to post by Kali74
 

Kali.. I would note one other thing here that is wrong with the Police side of things. A correctable thing, like you highlight in their thinking and approach. I was watching the L.A. raid last evening pretty closely before it got dark out there and something struck me. The line of cops down in the lower square below the tents and facing the bulk of the demonstrators were rookies. Those cops looked younger than many of the protesters.

Perhaps some commanders thought it was a dandy time to season the new guys with some real 'action'. I read that as an incredibly stupid move where inexperienced cops could have made just one wrong move....like whacking a protester with a baton for instance...and turned the whole thing into a giant fur ball.

I thought you might find that observation to be interesting about what was facing the OWS people though.



posted on Nov, 18 2011 @ 07:35 PM
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reply to post by Wrabbit2000
 


Honestly that could have been because they needed the extra persons, there were tens of thousands in LA yesterday.



posted on Nov, 18 2011 @ 10:17 PM
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Originally posted by Kali74
reply to post by Wrabbit2000
 


Honestly that could have been because they needed the extra persons, there were tens of thousands in LA yesterday.

Oh probably so. I would bet there were explorers out there helping with traffic and such too. What I don't expect to see though are the green horn rookies being on the first line and in direct contact with the protesters. Other cities generally seem to have the seasoned looking cops right up front. The LiveStream guy had the camera within about 5 feet of a few of those cops for a good part of the raid though and you could see they were terrified... That kind of expression and reaction from cops leaves me with a sick feeling.

It's only going to take one really big miscalculation or mistake on either side to blow one of these events/raids into a full blown tragedy. I just wish there was really any sign from either authority or OWS that anyone even cares to try and prevent it anymore.



posted on Nov, 18 2011 @ 11:10 PM
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reply to post by Kali74
 

Good post.

It definitely points out that there are external influences at play in this situation.

In the US, an approach to military work was developed during the second half of the 1900s that is known here as Army Special Forces. JFK was a big fan of this approach. The concept is rooted in the idea of "psychological warfare."

From Wikipedia:



Their official motto is De oppresso liber (Latin: To Liberate the Oppressed), a reference to one of their primary missions, training and advising foreign indigenous forces.


Either JKF himself, or someone advising him, saw a need for a military approach that was friendly to the civilians and friendly forces on the ground, and worked with them to overcome oppression from external criminal elements, supposedly mostly of a Communist nature. For some reason, the irony of this approach did not seem to impress anyone at the time.

In any case, this approach was never adopted by US police organizations to any great degree, and seems to be seen today by most observers as hypocritical.

We should remember, though, that Kennedy was trying to build something new; to take the US government in a different direction than others wanted it to go. And he was taken out of the picture because of this.

Police forces exist to protect their communities from criminal elements. What happens when those very elements begin to take control of those police forces? You get what we have been seeing here and around the world.

This inversion in government is so commonplace that many Americans took special pride in the idea that in the United States the government and the police were still honest. We are seeing that idea crumble now.

To me the situation is clear.

We are dealing with a situation that is as old as Man: The struggle between honest and dishonest people.

For some reason, the dishonest seem to always amass power far out of proportion to their numbers. Probably this is because that this kind of power does not interest honest people that much. They find it distasteful to use the threat of force in their relationships with others. Thus there is a natural tendency for the military (inter-national police) and local police to fall into the hands of criminal elements.

Until we remove all the BS and ideology surrounding this problem and understand the situation in its simplicity, we will not be able to successfully deal with it.

Can an honest man (or woman) learn to use force wisely? Yes.

Does this mean tear gassing demonstrators just because they are blocking traffic? Of course not!

An honest person uses his power cheerfully and gently to accomplish things that obviously need to be done without undue violence or loss of life. This is the ideal for any armed professional to aspire to; and many of them still do. Only the dishonest (the criminals) will disagree with this approach to the use of force.



posted on Nov, 18 2011 @ 11:11 PM
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reply to post by Wrabbit2000
 


Occupy has consistently shown to not respond to police escalation of violence. I can't imagine how immensely hard it must be to watch someone being beat and do nothing but get names and yell at the police to stop. To interfere any other way would turn into a huge mess and someone would probably die. You are asking that people not protest, not exercise their 1st Amendement rights in order to stop the police (on orders) from breaking the law. Do you see that is what you are asking?



posted on Nov, 18 2011 @ 11:57 PM
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Originally posted by Kali74
You are asking that people not protest, not exercise their 1st Amendement rights in order to stop the police (on orders) from breaking the law. Do you see that is what you are asking?

Not really. Just do it wisely, not with direct confrontation. You're right that the vast majority of OWS locations have been dedicated to peaceful approach since this began and a good number still are. A couple of the largest however, seem to have taken a slight detour to the wild side and the public really isn't in a supportive mood with it.

The biggest thing though is that it isn't the cops anymore and hasn't been for a few days now. The cops are following orders and it's coming out of Washington. When the first people were sarcastically calling for OWS to converge and occupy Washington I thought it was absurd. The more this is developing and becoming a top-down response from DHS, the more sense it makes though. Why camp the cities when they aren't where the solutions are ever coming from?

OWS has the numbers....for now. It has the money if ALL the camps contributed to the transportation effort with ALL the available funds. Washington D.C. has a great deal of open grass and land. If patience isn't workable, go to the heart of the matter and push there.



posted on Nov, 19 2011 @ 05:39 PM
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reply to post by Wrabbit2000
 


It shouldn't even be an issue. Unless protests get violent and turn to rioting the police have zero right to lay a hand on you except to arrest you. When did choosing wisely become considering whether or not protest to exercise your 1st Amendment rights because you might get beaten or pepper sprayed by the cops for not moving. When you choose not to move you should expect to be bodily moved or cuffed and sent to jail, not beaten or doused in chemicals.



posted on Nov, 20 2011 @ 12:50 PM
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Originally posted by Kali74
reply to post by Wrabbit2000
 


It shouldn't even be an issue. Unless protests get violent and turn to rioting the police have zero right to lay a hand on you except to arrest you. When did choosing wisely become considering whether or not protest to exercise your 1st Amendment rights because you might get beaten or pepper sprayed by the cops for not moving. When you choose not to move you should expect to be bodily moved or cuffed and sent to jail, not beaten or doused in chemicals.

Very true..and you make some very solid points on that. While advocating a stand-off approach with regard to Police, I'm also vehement about the need for immediate, transparent and citizen involved investigations on the specific officers AS WELL as their entire chains of command and related material. Some cities have had police with no riot gear at all doing full camp tear-downs and arrests. OWS need not be a war zone, even with the raids. We need to push for investigations on the differences between cities....on both sides.

Having said that.... Protesters who stand nose to nose with the riot police, night after night and endure the gas, the sprays, bean bags and rubber repeatedly, are showing force in a very real way by simply returning. I'm not going to say it's right or wrong. That just is...and it is a very real factor in predicting police reaction in advance.

It looks like this may be slowly shifting toward D.C. now though, where it really always should have been anyway. Oakland, Atlanta or Portland can't solve any of these problems, Washington, on the other hand... Now it's full of the people who can actually bring the changes we all want. To Washington with Occupy,

edit on 20-11-2011 by Wrabbit2000 because: (no reason given)



posted on Nov, 20 2011 @ 02:44 PM
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Originally posted by Kali74
reply to post by Wrabbit2000
 


It shouldn't even be an issue. Unless protests get violent and turn to rioting the police have zero right to lay a hand on you except to arrest you. When did choosing wisely become considering whether or not protest to exercise your 1st Amendment rights because you might get beaten or pepper sprayed by the cops for not moving. When you choose not to move you should expect to be bodily moved or cuffed and sent to jail, not beaten or doused in chemicals.


I must apologize, but your statement in this regard is an absolute oxymoron. if the police have zero right to lay a hand on you, that INCLUDES ARRESTING SOMEONE!!! It's an ~ILLEGAL~ arrest that both still uses strong arm tactics to fulfill orders that violate that person's CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO PROTEST. As an OATH TAKER... YOU HAVE NOW CHOSEN TO BREAK YOUR OATH.

PERIOD.

So what will it ~HONESTLY~ be? COMMAND... or OATH?!

I've heard way too many folks accuse people like myself of being shamefully unsupportive, even cowardly, for not physically being at these events. What these people fail to realize is my not being there is actually most likely a very good thing. You see, I take my personally guaranteed constitutional rights very seriously, deathly so.

If you came up to me to lay hands on me you'd be wearing beaver traps, and the rest looking down twin barrels of two fully functioning sawed off shotguns. Next, I'd start morphing into various cinematic super heros, like Arnold Szwartzenegger... once my "I'll be back!" quote was stated, you'd see Stalone spouting,"They drew first blood!", Bruce Willis saying,"Yippekaiay M.F.", Clint Eastwood saying,"Man has got to know his limitations...", When you recognize Arnold again you'd all probably fire your service revolvers at me in unison...

So, still think it wise to have me there?







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