Occupy DC: “This is not an eviction”

Capt. Phil Beck of US Park Police, Brian Eister and Occupier Charlie in heated exchange

Let’s be clear, when US Park Police entered McPherson Park before dawn today, they planned on evicting Occupy DC.

But that’s not what they told Occupiers, or reporters. “This is not an eviction,” said Sgt. David Schlosser of the Park Police. In a statement issued this evening, Occupy DC more accurately described it as a “slow-motion eviction.”

From the beginning, it was a containment strategy employed by Park Police intended to minimize violence and avoid the massive push-back that police have experienced while conducting Occupy evictions in other cities. In this respect, the Park Police was both clever and downright mendacious.

After Park Police officers arrived in overwhelming force, not surprisingly they first turned their attention to the large “Tent of Dreams” which has decorated the statue of General McPherson all week. Occupiers agreed to remove the tent themselves and allow police to conduct a “compliance inspection” of the park.

Throughout the day, this word was endlessly repeated: “compliance.” The camp was supposed to bring its tents into compliance with the Park Service’s regulations. The meaning of “in compliance” shifted with each passing hour as Park Police enacted a carefully planned charade.

At first, inspectors only removed “camping material” from tents, defining it as bedding such as sleeping bags. Belongings were bagged and marked with property slips. Then the standard altered. The definition of bedding was stretched to a yoga mat. Every tent considered to have some violation was deemed “not in compliance,” then taken down. Police declared that completely empty tents were in compliance, yet some empty tents were taken down amyway, such as the teepee on the south side of the park, which a forklift carried away.

Nonetheless, Occupiers scrambled to meet the shifting standards, taking pictures and video of tents being cleaned out to have evidence in hand to prove they were empty before police reached them. By this time, everything was being thrown wholesale into trash compactor trucks.

Acknowledgment of betrayal spread gradually, until it became obvious that Park Police exceeded their purported mission. Large swaths of the park were being cleared. Brian Eister was one Occupier who negotiated with police. As the morning progressed and police officers’ words contradicted their actions, he began to see through the charade. “They’re lying to our faces, and they know they’re lying.”

He got an impassive response. Sgt. Todd Reid repeatedly intoned, “I’m not in charge here, not by any stretch of the imagination.” The I’m-just-following-orders line was used all day like one of the metal barricades placed around the park to cordon off the crowd.

Later across a barricade, Brian shouted, “I defended the Park Service, and you fucking lied. You know you lied to me. I told them you would treat us right!” Soon afterwards he launched a kamikaze mission by breaching a barricade to purposefully get arrested. He reportedly shouted at Captain Phil Beck, the commanding officer, “You’re a liar, you’re a liar!”

When asked why the police would lie to a negotiator like Brian, Occupy DC’s lawyer Jeff Light said, “That’s what they do.”

Still, even in light of the whole day’s events, ultimately the eviction of Occupy DC was a surprise. In comparison to the restraint and planning applied earlier, the sudden outbreak of violence at 5pm seemed uncharacteristically out of control. The eviction became official as Park Police officers pushed everyone out of McPherson Square and read notices which said, “The park is closed.”

“This is not an eviction,’ they said in the early morning light.

I suggested before that Park Police used the lie-in-your-face strategy to minimize violence. They probably thought they were justified. In fact, briefly seeing the apparent sincerity in Captain Beck’s face, I must believe that they were thoroughly convinced in their mission to protect. Yet that very conviction belies the complete contempt with which they held the members of Occupy DC and their goals. Deception was the key strategy of the day, to make the Occupiers believe that they had some control over the situation when in fact they had no control, to lull them into compromise and peaceful submission–“compliance.”

Park Police held all the cards by virtue of sheer force. The answer to the question “Why do they lie?” shouldn’t be “That’s what they do.” Protestors are not murderers, terrorists or criminals. Police should not be liars. When First Amendment rights are bulldozed, in violation of recent court rulings, it stings with the betrayal we feel when authority can and does arbitrarily choose not to operate in good faith. It reveals the true impotence we citizens have in the face of power, when in a democracy we ought to hold the reins. Above all, we should not be required to be “in compliance.”

(Image by coolrevolution.net)

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