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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Silent Partners

With support among police quietly growing,
can Occupy cross over the thin blue line?

By Chris Faraone
The Boston Phoenix
December 03, 2011

As Occupy camps from coast to coast face evictions — and in many cases have already been pushed out of parks and plazas like so much human trash — it's clear that the institutional response to the movement is escalating dangerously.

Likewise, relations between police and activists seem to be deteriorating, as non-violent protesters continue to be arrested almost daily.

But as tensions build between Occupiers and Big Brother, what's also true is that individual officers are increasingly concerned about their role in combating Occupy.

Even in cities where the overall police response has been barbaric, there's a growing sense that cops who've been charged with breaking camps are unnerved by such orders.

Earlier this week, Los Angeles authorities avoided a riot by working with protesters, and even thanking them publicly for demonstrating their right to free speech.

On a smaller scale, last month in Oregon an officer was seen sobbing in his combat gear while raiding a Portland encampment.

In October, Albany police — along with state troopers — refused to arrest protesters despite pressure from the city's mayor and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

At least one Occupier believes that such sentiments are not anomalous.

Calling himself Danny — he wouldn't reveal his true identity — he created a movement-within-a-movement, Occupy Police (OcPo), designed to be an outlet for officers of all ranks, everywhere, to speak openly about Occupy.

"We think solidarity with police is needed," says Danny in the only interview he's granted to date.

As he launches Operation SHIELD — an OcPo initiative calling for civilians, ex-police, and ex-military to physically step in between protesters and cops in the event of future confrontations - Danny's goal is to bridge this most glaring divide among so-called 99 percenters. He continues:

"There are a lot of active cops right now who can't speak, can't get involved, and have no place in this protest . . . but they sympathize with the direction of the movement and its political standpoints that the system is screwed up, and that this is about bad government. They also believe that it's not good for this to turn into a street war between police and protesters."


Danny started OcPo in mid-October, after a series of intense talks with buddies on the Boston force about the eviction of Occupiers from the Rose Kennedy Greenway on Columbus Day.

"My friends who are cops did not like what happened," he says.

"They have to do their job — and they can't act out about it openly
but they're unhappy off the record with what's going on, and they're
not happy with having to arrest non-violent protesters."

By early November, Ocpo had thousands of connections on Facebook and Twitter, and what Danny described as an outpouring of moral support and gratitude from police.

While any cop who supports OcPo understandably can't say so in public (or to the Phoenix), the platform has allowed at least one officer to express himself.

Fred Shavies of Oakland PD was accused by activists of attempting
to covertly infiltrate the Occupy in his city.

"I totally agree with Occupy Wall Street," Shavies says in a video on the OcPo Web site. "I identify with the 99 percent, but I also have a job to do."

Danny says OcPo's mission is to give men and women like Shavies "a place to speak, and to create peace and solidarity between the two groups so they can combine and make real political change."

For proof that those ideas have gained traction, he points to one of the Occupy movement's defining moments: the November 17 arrest of former Philadelphia police captain Ray Lewis.

Retired for eight years and living in the Catskills, on November 14
after weeks of reading about people who were standing up to
corporate entities that he too deplores — Lewis became inspired
to join forces with OWS protesters.

The arrest of Lewis, on the two-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, hit the press like a billy club.

Though more than 300 were bagged by NYPD on the same day, the images of him being cuffed in full police uniform — and news of his being subsequently slapped with charges including disorderly conduct — put Lewis front and center.

With the world watching, he showed compassion for fellow men
and women of the law.

"Corporate America is using police departments as hired thugs," Lewis told MSNBC.

"I was trying to portray the message that they should not become mercenaries — not that they already were. . . . Cops are just as human as everyone else."


With more and more examples of police benevolence to counter the tragedies that have unfolded in their clashes with Occupiers, Danny's latest push is to bring OcPo off the Web and onto the front lines.

With Operation SHIELD, he's collaborating with the similarly themed Occupy Marine Corps (OMC) to recruit "an organized and very transparent group of men and -women who will have the guts to step up in between the protesters and the police and create a gridlock."

Logistics are still being drawn up, but Danny believes that
his growing networks can support such interrupter actions.

According to Todd Gitlin, an author, Columbia professor, and
veteran activist who has closely watched social movements —
including Occupy Wall Street — over the past several decades,
Operation SHIELD is a historically unique concept.

But while "police were the hardest nut to crack in the late '60s
and '70s," Gitlin says the impact of servicemen and women
speaking out against wars has always been powerful.

"Whenever somebody acts out of the character imputed to them,
it's a huge statement," he says.

"What it did for the morale of the [anti-war] movement was assure
people that they were not wholly isolated, and that theirs is not just
a matter of piety or moral righteousness — that it was a reasonable
position that reasonable people could sign up for."

Recent examples all across the country have so far proven that
such phenomena endure.

When police raided Occupy Boston, the prevalent emerging image was that of a member of the group Veterans for Peace being arrested while his American flag was trampled.

In Oakland, outrage ensued following reports that Iraq War
veteran Scott Olsen was assaulted with a can of tear gas.

In building Operation SHIELD, Danny has connected with all of
these emblematic entities, including Marine Corps Sergeant
Shamar Thomas.

A hulking presence, Thomas, who has been deployed to Iraq more than a dozen times, famously blocked NYPD from arresting protesters during a march into Times Square on October 15.

In the moment, Shamar expressed what could be considered
the rallying sentiment behind OcPo and Operation SHIELD.

"It is not honorable to attack unarmed civilians who carry
no weapons, who have no intent or ability to harm you," the
veteran told more than 30 police officers — and subsequently
the whole world, as video of his declaration went viral hours later.

"It is not honorable to suppress the right to freedom of speech
and freedom of association. You carry your badges and your guns
and your authority because you are charged with protecting the
innocent. We are the innocent. You are working for the criminals."

Chris Faraone can be reached at

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