An Attack on Occupy Boston

I fail to see what the Boston Police have actually accomplished with their attack on Occupy Boston last night.

I mean, this summarizes the reasons they're giving for having to remove the protesters from their second location. None of them actually make sense. Increased public safety concern? That doesn't seem very likely, given that people standing around don't really seem like they would be that much of a risk to public safety. Potential property damage? Except the property owner, the Greenway Conservancy, had laid out the rules under which the land could be used, making it clear in the process that Occupy Boston had the green light. Breakdown of communication? That only matters if the protesters are obligated to communicate with the police in the first place, which they are not.

It's the unguarded statements, the reading between the lines, that really gets at the reason. Mayor Menino's line, saying that civil disobedience will not be tolerated, is the most obvious of those statements. (And that particular statement deserves all the scorn and derision it gets, too!)

But in the police statement that I linked to above, you see the same kinds of things crop up once or twice. Prior agreement. Previously approved. This attack wasn't about public safety, it was about public control. Much as the authorities might like to, they cannot shut down Occupy Boston entirely without facing vilification in the media. But neither can they simply ignore the protest as it continues to spread. So instead, they make the choice to control it as much as possible. Go stand in this marked-out corner that we're letting you have, and don't try to expand or overstep your boundaries.

And if the goal was public control, then I don't see how this attack was anything other than a failure. Oh, perhaps the police have preserved a kind of temporary physical public control over a small area of the city. But telling them that they can only have as much ground as the police are willing to give them is not going to make the protest go away. It's certainly not going to make the protest stop growing. And it's not going to change the tone or focus of the protest.

The point of that civil disobedience that Boston's mayor has no patience for? Is to stand in defiance of undesirable public control. Congratulations, Boston Police; all you've truly accomplished is to help spread the message.

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