Friday, December 16, 2011

Who Cleans Up After the One Percent?

I meant to put up that corner banner before, but had trouble getting it to work. I tried again today, and it worked, so there it is. It would be easy to think that Occupy has passed its moment, with the police clearing out the occupations (though not everywhere, not yet), and the media are sure to tell us it's all over. That might account for the drop in donations to OWS recently. But it's not over. Occupy protests are happening in places you might consider unlikely. Did you notice that Occupy Oakland shut down Oakland Port again on Monday, with similar actions up and down the West Coast?

That's not what I mainly meant to write about, though. We had an interesting event in Bloomington last weekend that sheds light on a lot of the criticism one sees of the Occupy movement: IU won a basketball game against a number-one, and the fans went wild. "Slow-motion drinks flying through the air," says the report; how do you do that? But anyway, the key thing is that the police response, and public response, were very different than response to the local Occupy group, or to the movement nationally. Inside one of the popular bars:
"I don’t think I got to leave till 3 or 3:30 a.m.," [one worker] said. "I usually get off at 1 a.m. It was unreal. I’ve never seen Nick’s so dirty with beer on the floor. We were cooking food until the last minute when we had to shut down. Officially, we were closed, but on a night like last night, you couldn’t get all the people out."
Outside, the streets filled with people as the police watched. A car parked across the street from the bar was "trampled — its roof caved in, hood scuffed with shoe marks, windshield cracked. About an hour into the celebration, the crowd wanted to see it flipped." Which they tried to do, despite a couple of people who told them to stop. The car turned out to belong to a waitress in the bar, who was not pleased. However,
Bloomington Police Lt. Faron Lake was one of the officers who responded to Kirkwood following the win. It took the police some time to clear the area, Lake said, but there were no major problems while he was there. ...

Bloomington Police Sgt. Shane Rasche said there were no mass arrests as a result of the celebration.
"No major problems"? "No mass arrests", eh? Not even any arrests at all, it seems. Just as there were no arrests after Penn State students rioted in support of disgraced Coach Joe Paterno. The owner of the smashed car wrote a scathing letter to the local paper, which was published yesterday. One other letter appeared the same day, drawing unflattering contrasts between the treatment our student rioters received and the reactions of decent citizens to the Occupy camp.

For that matter, the police managed to arrest five IU students from a group who were protesting against the appearance of representatives of J.P. Morgan Chase at the School of Business.
At one point during the commotion, several protesters were allegedly pushed by a man in a gray suit. The man was later identified as IUPD Detective Greg McClure.
The assault was caught on video, of course, but to date McClure has not been arrested. The university has promised an investigation, of course.

(One of the things I, and I hope many other people, have learned from the late wave of protests is that the police cannot be believed about anything. Every time accusations of police violence have been leveled against them, they have come up with explanations that bear no relation to reality at all, which is proved by videos recorded by their targets. I don't suppose that this is anything new, either. It suggests that all police reports should be regarded as false until proven otherwise.)

By all accounts, last Saturday's riot was mild. I was living on the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington in 1976 when IU won the NCAA championship, and the rioters spread through most of downtown. They howled "Number One!", smashed windows, broke beer bottles on the pavement, and drove around honking their horns and ignoring stop signs for about three hours. I've been through two such victories since, which is not why I have no interest in sports -- that predates the 1976 riots by twenty years -- but it is why I always hope that IU or any team in the area will lose all its games.

This kind of behavior (which isn't limited to Bloomington, of course) doesn't lead to any general hostility to organized sport in America. But peaceful political protests are greeted by hostility, police violence, and dishonesty, as regular and automatic as breathing. That's a pretty stark disparity.

(By the way, I know that few of last Saturday's rioters come from the top 1% of the American distribution of wealth; even fewer of them have that much money of their own, as opposed to their parents. But as a matter of sympathy and solidarity, I suspect that many of them identify with the 1 percent. And we all know who cleans up after the messes the 1% make, be they literal or metaphorical; it's the rest of us.)