Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Small Good Thing

 If you have noticed my extended absence, I am a little sorry, but I do not apologize.  I am what I am and it feels like a miracle to me how much I actually can and do accomplish.  Right now I am writing a play.  But Occupy calls me.  Somehow fortune has made this the Occupy Play.  I pitched a courtroom drama, Williams v First Government, a jury trial in U.S. Federal court I did for a pro bono client fifteen years ago to a producer.  Like every play I have ever written, it was going to be all about me.  I write plays to try to understand myself because I frequently find myself unfathomable.  This play is about the period in my life when I was the hot resourceful young trial lawyer bringing mortgage bankers to justice against inconceivably bad odds.  I recently read the transcript of the trial for the first time since the appeals.  I am kind of racist and make some missteps, I am clumsy in my questions.  But somehow we won anyway.  The big ideas in this trial are very much the big ideas of Occupy:  the big hard questions we are beginning to ask:  what powers do we want the state to hold?  how do we want the state to distribute benefits?  how much should the state police capitalism and how should it be done?  (vaguely related:  The Theatre of the Liquids is a terrible thing that must end:  see my whining drivel elsewhere on this blog)?  What is justice and how do we bring it to our society?  What is a just society?  Occupy needs an intellectual foundation and it needs to grow.  I want this play to contribute to that. 

And there is this other thing, this new thing that prompts my return to the blog.  Yesterday I got a letter attaching a written decision in my appeal of the Metropolitan Police's rejection of my complaint about the kettling at St. Paul's on 15 October.   I complained because the kettling was not necessary to maintain order and was oppressive.  The Independent Police Complaints Commission (enquiries@ipcc.gsi.gov.uk) upheld my appeal.  This wonderful person named Neelam Patil ruled that the Met Police had not provided any evidence that kettling was necessary, in fact the police logs indicate a peaceful protest, and that they needed to produce evidence of a threat of violence to justify their actions.  The Met Police have to review this matter now.  So let's help them understand how important free speech is.  Let's give them the evidence that the Commission is requiring them to obtain.  If you were at St. Paul's on 15 October between 12 - 4, what did you see?  Because what I saw was that the only threat of violence came from the police themselves.  It is this threat of violence which really keeps the numbers down on our create a new and better world project.  So let's talk to them.  What happened? 

My specific complaint is earlier in my blog in a post from 15 October:

When I tried to leave St. Paul's Square, though, to find a bathroom, actually, I couldn't.  My signless friend was allowed out of the Square by the police, but I was not.  I was told to stand in a line, single file, to beg the police, after handing over my name and address, to be allowed to leave.  The police told me that I would not be allowed to leave with my sign.  The police I was speaking to did acknowledge upon close questioning that actually the phrase "Justice is Possible" is not subversive or likely to breach the peace.  But still, I could not leave.  That scared me.  Suddenly I longed for my children and the feel of their arms, I longed for the sight of Rhys and our family.  What do you want?  I'm a drama queen.

My friend waited on one side of the police barricades as I lined up to be permitted to walk down a street that my tax money had paid for.  We are in a police state.  The police are crushing people choosing peaceable assembly.  This situation is unacceptable.  I didn't get arrested and I still found it hard and kind of awful to be detained against my will and to be penalized by the state for saying what I think. 

End of quote

Of course it is immediately obvious to veteran protesters that I am a complete middle-aged wimp in that scenario.  In my defense this post is entitled "A Small Good Thing."

But allow me to point out that free speech should not only be for the brave.  It must be for everyone.  So can we use this opportunity to communicate with the Met?  Can you write a witness statement and say what you know?  For instance, I didn't see any fighting at all that would justify a containment.  I saw a lot of cops standing too close very aggressively without need.  I saw the police lined up on horseback, shoulder to shoulder as if they were planning to go to battle to defend Paternoster Square all War Horse style.  But at the time at issue,  the group of people had moved to sit in the sunshine on the steps of St. Pauls (it is and was always meant to be an inviting public space), the general assembly was well under way and small groups had formed at least twice.  Before Assange spoke I did hear some noises and I was told that his bodyguards had been forced to break through the police line to get him in to speak (nice protection of free speech, Met!  very nice indeed!).  So there was no threat of violence except the threat from the police.  These were peaceful people looking for a better world and the harassment from the police was an injustice.  Veterans of Occupy tell me what a tiny injustice it is compared to the injustices they have suffered at the hands of the police, and I am sure they are right.  But this is the injustice we can air in the law.  This is the injustice we were handed.  And it would be great to remember that day and how it felt and how important it was that we gathered. 

The Independent Police Complaints Commission ruled that the Met had not investigated whether the  provided no evidence that the kettling "was justified and appropriate".  If you were there, please tell me whether you thought the kettling was justified and appropriate.  It is easy to say:  never!  But that is not the law.  The law we have is this:  "containment can be justified only to prevent wide-scale disorder and looting".  Thinking about it, maybe we should be kettling the police and the government.  The looting has been ongoing for decades.   

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