In many cities, ordinances aimed at Occupy protesters are emerging to restrict protests and anything resembling camping on sidewalks, streets and parks. New fees are being drawn up to discourage large demonstrations. Anti-leafleting and postering rules are also muzzling people trying to spread the word about events. And all of that is being shepherded with a new pretext for using paramilitary tactics, replacing last year’s “health and safety” excuse for sweeping away Occupy sites with the rationale of protecting “national security” in a presidential election year.
“It looks to me like the law enforcement preparations are similar to what we have seen at most of the political conventions or other major events over the last dozen years, which is paramilitary policing against a civilian population,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund and co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee. “This tends to be different than the way Occupy actions have been handed for the most part, although one can point to Oakland or the New York Police Department [as exceptions]. But I would stress that it is not new.”
Verheyden-Hilliard and her colleagues, including hundreds of volunteer attorneys across America who helped defend Occupy protests last fall, are not just continuing to litigate numerous instances of abusive policing—such as the trap-and-detain tactics used in mass roundups in New York, Oakland and the use of excessive force on university campuses. They are tracking the latest versions in a well-known policing playbook now being fine-tuned for 2012’s big events, such as Chicago’s NATO summit in May, the national political conventions in late summer, and the anticipated re-emergence of local Occupy protests when the weather warms.
“People do overcome,” Verheyden-Hilliard said. “But I think you have to have a fair and honest assessment of what the grounds are in front of you in order to be able to succeed. We think that people should know the hurdles they are facing. Yet at the same time, it is not all hand-wringing. There are a lot of people who go over the top and say fascism is here. Fascism is not here. We are still out in the streets.