Monday, November 21, 2011

It's A Hell Of A Town

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These kids have energy. Positive energy. Unpretentious. Guileless.

It's in their eyes and postures. In the way they communicate. Earnest but not silly. After spending back-to-back days in Zuccotti Park, I see why elites are hysterical. A generation no one noticed is peacefully pushing back. And based on my time in NYC and DC, these kids aren't stopping any time soon.

The violent vibe comes from the cops. They surround the park, batons in hand, pepper spray ready, one order away from again clamping down. Many of these cops are NFL big. One wonders what enhancements they use to bulk up. Their expressions are hostile. To enter the park, you must walk past a line of them as they closely peruse you. And these are just the uniformed cops. Who knows how many plainclothes are milling about.

For all of its symbolic power, Zuccotti Park is the tip of a potential national upheaval. Kids across the country are Occupying. As we saw at UC Davis, they're putting their bodies on the line, learning to defend themselves without violence.

You have to be truly cynical to doubt the courage of kids willing to be pepper sprayed at pointblank range by a uniformed thug. To mock a collective strategy that put cops on their heels without a single rock thrown.

Something good is happening. It's too early for specifics, but a general definition is taking shape. Again, age and experience warn me against optimism. But I do want them to win something. To inject their determination into the larger culture. We sure as fuck can use it.

Meantime, New York's finest march in lockstep. NYC cops have always been a law unto themselves. But since 9/11 they've added many new toys and tactics to their Robo arsenal.

The city feels increasingly authoritarian. Preventing terror is the official excuse. Yet the monsters paraded are usually drips. The latest threat touted, Jose Pimentel, supposedly an Al-Qaeda sympathizer and would-be bomb maker, is meant to make New Yorkers thank Michael Bloomberg and Raymond Kelly for saving their lives.

For a captured terrorist mastermind, Pimentel's resume is pretty thin. Kelly concedes that Pimentel is a "lone wolf," which mutes the intended effect. Even the Feds had no interest in him. But the issue isn't self-defense -- it's systemic reinforcement.

In order to justify police state methods and laws, we have to see those deemed dangerous. Pimentel's rumpled appearance, brown skin, and unemployed status will scare those willing to be scared. But given the police apparatus that Pimentel was allegedly going to attack, his "threat" was at best negligible.

As ridiculous as Pimentel seems, his image feeds something darker. Rudy Giuliani gave Manhattan to the rich. Bloomberg is solidifying that control while expanding into other boroughs.

Protecting the city's One Percent is a well-stocked army of blue. Their stop-and-frisk policies, stopping non-white people on the street and searching them with no evidence or warrant, has become commonplace. That the vast majority are found to be innocent means little. Making people afraid is the goal. Reminding them who owns the city.

Sunday morning, I spent an hour in Penn Station for my train back to DC. It had been ages since I was last there, and the changes were alarming. Cops in flack jackets with detection dogs, stopping people at random, searching their luggage and pockets while the dogs sniffed at the edges.

A video celebrating this practice continually played in the waiting area. Over and over we were told to submit, obey and not talk unless spoken to. This was for our "protection." Any "suspicious" behavior would lead to arrest.

According to the NYPD, there have been 14 terror threats to the city since 9/11. A generous baker's dozen over a decade. How serious any of it was is open to speculation, but those aren't IRA-hitting-London numbers.

I'm sure that someone somewhere wants desperately to blow up something in NYC. Yet the cops aren't uprooting complex networks. If they were, we'd never hear the end of it (and their budgets would boom). This explains why suspects like Pimentel are made to be bigger than they are. And I'm guessing he wasn't arrested while waiting to board Amtrak's Northeast Regional.

The revealing thing is, Jose Pimentel doesn't frighten city elites. The non-violent kids in Zuccotti Park do. All that firepower aimed at young people linking arms, chanting, discussing, singing, looking to remake their world. So, who is it we must really fear?