Teachers Protest, NYPD Officers Don Riot Helmets
This morning I attended an event at Washington Irving High School, in Manhattan’s Gramercy neighborhood, to protest the proposed closing of the school. Gregg Lundahl, the United Federation of Teachers chapter leader at Irving, lead teachers and students in chants that highlighted the increased income inequality that results from closing public high schools. The 50 or so participants marched up the block on sleepy Irving Street, then down the block, staying on the sidewalk the entire time. And across the street, the NYPD put on their riot helmets.
Now, there weren’t many police in riot helmets. Maybe 3 or 4, plus another 15 police (including two White Shirts) milling around. When I arrived there were two NYPD squad cars, two vans, and three mopeds. You might say to yourself, as someone responded to me on Twitter, Hey man, 3 or 4 riot-helmeted cops with their hands in their pockets, looking bored, isn’t such a big deal. Well, you’re wrong. It’s absolutely a big deal. Not because the police were going to beat up anybody, or arrest anybody, but simply because 50 teachers protesting the closing of their school do not deserve to be treated like potential rioters — even by 3 police officers.
Police departments across the country are becoming increasingly militarized. Security contractors devise new methods of coercion against protesters constantly. As a result, confrontations between peaceful activists and cops often resemble paramilitary-style raids rather than restrained police action — most obviously in the way police have dislodged Occupy encampments nationwide. The aggressive theater that the PDs engage in is meant in no uncertain terms to intimidate anyone with the gall to raise their voice in dissent. Speak up and you will be kettled, pepper sprayed, jailed, beaten with truncheons, or simply advanced on by a phalanx of heavily armored stormtroopers. This morning’s action only serves to illustrate how deeply embedded the militarized reaction to all forms of protest is in the NYPD.
Why were there police there at all? Honestly, does anyone believe that one or two officers is an insufficient force to observe 50 teachers assembled, as is their right, outside their high school? It’s completely beside the point that the officers were bored, and that there were no confrontations. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe the lazy, uneventful, automatic militarized response is what I find so distasteful. The teachers I spoke with after the event were mildly concerned, but not seriously, about the police presence. They seemed to be bewildered by it more than anything else. But an activist and journalist who writes under the name Dicey Troop and I were more incredulous. Bloomberg’s army has become omnipresent for anyone participating in OWS, but their presence at Washington Irving was almost comically disproportionate.
Organizers of the event are calling for a massive public showing on January 31st at 6:30 at Brooklyn Tech to defend Washington Irving against the city’s proposed shut-down. According to information circulated this morning, 6% of the students at Manhattan’s high-need schools (of which Irving is a part) are special needs. At Bloomberg’s new Manhattan schools, the percentage is much lower, between .5-1%, according to the flier.
Bloomberg’s New York City is a city of increasingly privatized education, and an increasingly militarized response to all forms of protest. We would do well to remember his legacy accurately.
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