This week marks the two year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street mobilization. Videographer Paul Sullivan made an excellent video to commemorate one critical aspect of what was exposed in the days and weeks following the initial protest: the First Amendment crushing, calculated force directed against activists by the NYPD.
Unfortunately, the scenes in the video above are not anomalous: the NYPD was intimidating and breaking up protests before 2011, and it is still doing it today. The police department in the self-proclaimed greatest city in the world has long been hostile to public dissent.
The tactics and strategies you see officers employ in the above video have been honed and fine tuned for years. Back in 2004, another major activist mobilization was subject to similar repression in New York City. Like with OWS, the NYPD effort against the anti-RNC activists involved extensive police spying and infiltration of movements. Also like Occupy Wall Street, those protests were framed by NYPD allegations that "anarchists" were descending on New York intent to cause trouble.
The 2004 protests against the Republican National Convention drew thousands of activists to the city, where they, like OWS, were confronted by the paramilitarized NYPD and faced mass arrests. Mass arrests often ensnare not just law-abiding protesters but also passersby. They also have the effect of making participation in public dissent a risky activity by making it crystal clear that anyone on the streets could easily end up in a jail cell just for exercising their First Amendment rights.
In October 2012, a federal judge ruled that the NYPD's arrest of over 200 people in one particular "kettle" was illegal. Nevertheless, the NYPD employed the kettling arrest tactic as recently as March 2013 while attempting to break up protests against the police for the NYPD killing of New York City teen Kimani Gray.
Why is the NYPD so afraid of dissent?