(See the main Occupy the Highway blog for the latest news on the march.)
A day after New York police evicted Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park with a show of force, tearing down tents and possibly using tear gas or pepper spray as they arrested more than a hundred people, a new photo has emerged that puts a startling face on police force and Occupy.
The photo captures a distressed Dorli Rainey, who is 84 and less than five feet tall, just after she was pepper sprayed at Occupy Seattle Tuesday. Seattle Police responded to upset protest organizers by saying pepper spray “is not age specific. No more dangerous to someone who is 10 than someone who is 80.”
Police from Oakland to New York have been for months perceived as working against the Occupy movement. But less-reported is that there are many officers who feel the opposite, because as Oakland police officer Fred Shavies pointed out last week: “I’m part of the 99 percent.”
At Zuccotti Park yesterday, a retired Philadelphia police officer showed up to show solidarity with the protesters, arriving in his full police chief uniform. The unnamed officer, who said he now works as a farmer, told protesters he came because “soulless people should not be in power” and “this was too important not to show up for.”
Police officers still on the force have showed their support, too. Along the two-week-long Occupy march from New York to D.C., which is ongoing, a police patrol car trailed at a close distance in nearly every town through which the marchers passed. At first, the marchers were certain the police were there to keep an eye on them, and wait for the right time to make an arrest. Before the protesters reached their first resting stop at a couchsurfer-volunteered house in Elizabeth, N.J., local police interrogated the man who owned the house, Ken Londono, about the purpose of the march. Londono says he told them: “The protesters just walked 18 miles. You think they are going to come to my house and have Burning Man in the backyard?”
But in the more than 100 miles that protesters marched in the next five days, police failed to make any arrests. Instead, officers emerged from their cars only to help marchers with directions or guide them to a less dangerous route. “We’re here for protection,” officers in each of the towns told them. When the marchers entered the particularly dangerous neighborhood of Frankfort in north Philadelphia, the police officer asked them to not stop for breaks until they’d made it through.
When the marchers entered Philadelphia, it was more of the same story. “Civil affairs officers” in Philadelphia, whose job it is to keep an eye on protesters, told the Occupy marchers they were there for protection, and even allowed the marchers’ protest to completely take over Second Street.
At the Occupy Philadelphia camp, police officer Joe Shookla said of the protesters, who have been camping in front of City Hall for almost a month and a half: “They haven’t caused us any problems. And we aren’t going to do anything unless they cause problems, except make sure they’re safe.”
But the marchers walking from New York to D.C. have been peaceful, unlike some of the Occupy campsites, which may explain the unequivocal police support.
Marcher Michael Glazer, who was located at Occupy Wall Street before the march, says that police are sometimes supportive until violence breaks out. Glazer cites an incident from Zuccotti Park in which a McDonald’s employee, who had been kind enough to let protesters continuously use the bathroom, was punched by a protester. Glazer says a New York officer turned to him then and said, “Occupy is over. I’ve supported this until now. But Occupy isn’t like it was when it began.”