The NYPD continues its efforts to garner public sympathy for OWS

This time they arrested Naomi Wolf for discussing walking up and down a side walk. 

From the Guardian:

The feminist author Naomi Wolf has criticised the erosion of the right to public protest in the United States after she was arrested alongside Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in New York.

Wolf was led away in handcuffs after addressing protesters outside an awards ceremony held to honour New York’s governor, at which she was a guest.

She told the Guardian on Wednesday: “When I came out, the protesters had been pushed across the street. This happens in Britain, too, with kettling. Police keep inventing this right to barricade people in and tell people where to protest, but in the United States this is wrong: it’s against the first amendment rights of freedom of assembly.

“So I walked over to where they were – they were backed up against the wall. Police said there was a permit saying they couldn’t walk on the sidewalk. There was this giant phalanx of police.”

After discussing the issue with officers, Wolf said she established that the event’s permit did not prevent people from walking on the sidewalk outside the venue. Along with a small number of other protesters, she started to pace up and down the sidewalk.

“Then, a huge group of men in white shirts, who seem to be affiliated to the New York police department, but who are not self-evidently so – bigger and fitter than the rank-and-file blue-shirted officers – came in droves. About 30 or 40 of these men appeared.

“They got a megaphone – which the protesters are told is illegal – and they started shouting that we were illegally disrupting an event and we should disperse.”

Wolf said she “calmly” disputed the order with one of the officers in white shirts, who are more senior than those in blue shirts. “By this time I was surrounded by them. One of them asked me if I was going to get out of his way. I didn’t think consciously that I couldn’t step away, but I froze. My conscience froze me.”

Officers then detained Wolf, and took her to a precinct where she said she spent about half an hour in a cell. Her partner, the film producer Avram Ludwig, was also arrested. Both were later released with a summons for “refusing a lawful order”.

To be more serious for a moment, the clip seems scary to me.  It turns out that one cannot conduct a calm argument with the police.  If you are wrong, you can get arrested. 

Far worse than being an undergraduate in a logic course.

9 thoughts on “The NYPD continues its efforts to garner public sympathy for OWS

  1. I am sorry to have to remind people of our commenting policy. In short, it is “be nice.”. In addition, we expect the spam filter to catch blatant advertising, but we do remove it ourselves.

  2. Silly NYPD. Don’t they know that oppressive social power works MUCH better when it isn’t so, um, blatant?

  3. An interesting thought from the video: If I were a New Yorker, I would be quite miffed that the NYPD was engaging in such a massive waste of resources, unnecessarily and illegally persecuting the Occupy Wall St. protestors.

  4. It’s as though they think might makes right! Where could they have gotten such an idea?

  5. Strictly from this video, I fail to see much in the way of grounds for criticizing the conduct of the police here. On the contrary, they look pretty professional.

    I’m noticing a lot recently – not just on this blog but OWP-related commentary elsewhere – the old chestnut of saying that so-and-so was arrested for doing such-and-such innocuous-sounding activity.  This is very tendentious and also, I would think, unconvincing to anyone without an animus against the police or some other vested interest in believing that the police were wrong. Usually when we see this, it turns out upon inspection (to the extent not already immediately apparent, which it often is) that so-and-so was either arrested [i] not because of the innocuous activity but because of something else that they were doing at the same time, or [ii] because the time/place/manner in which so-and-so engaged in the activity caused it to fall, or reasonably appear to fall, within the scope of some valid prohibition.  An activity that is not inherently wrongful, or that is innocuous in many or even most contexts, can obviously constitute a violation of law in other contexts.

    The application of that principle is obvious here.  Someone who has just been told to move by the police can’t conduct an argument with them, no matter how calmly, *in lieu of complying* – and with good reason.  It would be terribly imprudent public policy to create a precedent that could induce a peace officer on the street during a civil disorder to engage in a debate with a person ordered to disperse, as to why such an order was given.

    Between her ersatz interpretations of constitutional law, her somewhat implausible eyewitness perceptions (she couldn’t immediately recognize that she was talking to NYPD officers because the badges and patches were attached to white shirts?), and her vaguely self-righteous account of *why* she failed to comply with a legal duty (her conscience froze her?), I can’t see that Wolf does herself any favours here, or that she is likely to incite sympathy – where it does not already exist – for anyone she’s connected with on the basis of this incident.  Her behaviour here leaves me cold, notwithstanding that I actually do have a general underlying sympathy for OWP.

    But that’s just me.

  6. Honestly Nemo, you write as though we make unjustified accusations against the police. But in fact it looks as though the pepper sprayer we first featured was in the wrong:

    The NY TImes:

    A New York police commander who pepper-sprayed protesters during the opening days of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations last month faces an internal disciplinary charge that could cost him 10 vacation days, the police said Tuesday.

    .The commander, Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, has been given a so-called command discipline, according to a law enforcement official. Officials said investigators found that the inspector ran afoul of Police Department rules for the use of the spray. The department’s patrol guide, its policy manual, says pepper spray should be used primarily to control a suspect who is resisting arrest, or for protection; it does allow for its use in “disorder control,” but only by officers with special training.

    The Internal Affairs Bureau reviewed the episode and found that Inspector Bologna “used pepper spray outside departmental guidelines,” said Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman. He declined to elaborate.

    The inspector can accept the charge and plead guilty, or he can opt for a departmental trial. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly is the ultimate arbiter of punishment in such matters and has wide leeway in his decisions.

    Of course, he can still contest the decision.
    Citizens are not obliged to obey every order a police officer issues.

  7. Anne,

    Let me respond to your last point first, if I may. Strictly speaking, a person need onlý obey every “lawful order” of a peace officer, so what you say is technically true. If a person is arrested for noncompliance with an order that a court determines to have been unlawful, then the charge will be dismissed.

    So Naomi Wolf was not legally obliged to comply with the order to disperse *if* it was not lawfully issued. By the same token, she would not be legally obliged to comply with a police order to pull her car over if that order were not lawful (i.e. where the police did not have grounds to pull her over). However, while only a court can ultimately affirm whether a peace officer’s order is lawful, the penalty for being wrong falls on the person who chooses not to obey. It’s no defense that the noncompliant person made an honest or even a reasonable mistake in thinking that the order was unlawful. And unless a peace officer gives an order while actually believing it to be unlawful, it’s reasonable to expect the officer to arrest someone who doesn’t comply.

    So think about what this means for what you were saying. You profess surprise that a person would be arrested for calmly arguing with a police officer in lieu of complying with an order to disperse, but that is really no different from a person being arrested for calmly driving away in lieu of complying with a police order to pull her car over to the side of the road. In both cases, the order is not binding if it happens to be unlawful. But I daresay that people would feel a little uncomfortable about encouraging drivers not to pull their cars over for the police so long as the driver is sincerely confident that the police have no good reason to be ordering him or her to pull over.

    In the same way, I would have some misgivings about Wolf’s decision not to comply with the order given to her, even if I thought I had strong grounds for concurring in her implicit legal judgment that the order was not lawful (which, as it happens, I don’t believe I do here).

    On the question of whether unjustified accusations have been made against the police, I do have some thoughts in response, which I will try to formulate in a separate comment.

  8. Can I just point out that while the US population represents 5% of the world’s population, the US incarcerates 25% of the world’s prisoners. My guess is that given the deference Nemo shows to legal authority, and given the way in which Nemo seems to want to kowtow to the police, Nemo’s pretty cool with this. Thanks for helping to protect us all, Nemo! You’re a standup gal/guy!

  9. @Anonymous #8,

    It’s true that, according to the 8th edition of the World Prison Population List, just over 23% of the estimated world prison population is in the United States.  Now, of course, the comparability of incarceration figures is compromised by, among other things, differing national practices regarding the classification and administration of prison populations, reliance on official figures, and so forth, many of which factors the International Centre for Prison Studies cautions us about in publishing the list. However, despite those caveats, for the sake of argument let’s assume a high degree of both comparability and accuracy.

    The question then becomes, what exactly is the inference that you mean to draw from this, and how is that inference warranted?  Does this statistic in any way inform us as to what the proper number of incarcerated persons should be the United States?  Do you have any idea what that number would be?  And how does this relate to the propriety of the conduct of the police in the incident we were discussion?

    Moreover, how you infer that I “want to kowtow to the police” (without actually, I note, taking advantage of the opportunity to refute anything I’ve said about the police) is frankly puzzling. Oh well.

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