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Militarized police aiming sophisticated tools at non-violent #occupy movement

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The occupy movements have thrust into the spotlight a trend that has gradually shifted the character of law enforcement in the United States over the past thirty years. Police militarization has been the subject of a number of articles in the press of late. It has become all too common to read about police using SWAT gear and methods to enforce simple laws or to serve warrants. Far too frequently, this kind of overreaction by law enforcement ends in the deaths of people who have done nothing to warrant being killed by the police.

Like the "night-raids" in Afghanistan, SWAT raids employ overwhelming force and fear in order to subdue the 'enemy' or the 'target'. But like in Afghanistan, the raids in the United States unsettle people and frighten them to such a degree that tragic state violence occurs with some regularity. A most notable case is that of US war veteran Jose Guerena, whom police mistakenly identified as a drug dealer. When SWAT raided his property, his wife woke him up afraid, saying she'd seen armed men pointing guns in the windows. He picked up his rifle, walked out of his bedroom to investigate, and minutes later, without having fired a single shot, was dead on the floor of his own home, riddled with police bullets.

At least one former police officer, the ex-Chief of the Seattle police, is rethinking this militarization process. He says that the police violence on display over the past few months against occupy encampments hasn't been just a few bad apples. '[T]he barrel itself is rotten," he says.

While the war on drugs and then the war on terror provided the excuse for the militarization of the police over the past thirty years, the riot gear, tanks, and surveillance technologies aimed at people breaking or suspected of breaking the law are now firmly pointed in the direction of overwhelmingly non-violent protesters exercising their First Amendment rights. Occupy is the target of police forces that look a lot like militaries.

Below are some examples of police forces deploying military tactics, equipment or surveillance strategies against non-violent demonstrators nationwide.

Above: a photo from Occupy Tampa. (Credit: @CallMeGoldie)

  • NYPD using military "snatch and grab" technique to arrest people in crowds.
  • A video of the Oakland Police Department, dressed in riot gear, mercilessly beating Iraq war veteran Kayvan Sabehgi. They beat him so badly they ruptured his spleen, requiring surgeries. Furthermore, they kept him in jail for nearly 24 hours before allowing him access to medical attention.
  • Surveillance tactics deployed against occupy camps nationwide have included the use of private contractors.
  • See the following videos, showing police attacking unarmed demonstrators:

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Meanwhile, the NYPD is denying that it arrested journalists, though it arrested scores. Journalists have also been beaten by the police while covering Occupy Wall Street. And there is now evidence suggesting that a NYPD officer engaged in brutality pushed a NY supreme court judge who dared to get in his way.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.