Tuesday, March 20, 2012
As I did 3 nights ago, I'm watching live at http://www.ustream.tv/timcast as the New York Police Department forcibly prevent people from exercising their 1st Amendment rights on public space. It's an amazing experience to sit in my house in Minnesota, watching in real time as police and protestors confront one another in New York City. The democratization of media is astonishing. The link above is to 'Timcast'; Tim is apparently an intrepid independent reporter who has been streaming and commenting live on police / protestor confrontations. The tension of his broadcasts can be excruciating. I spend half the time worrying that he's going to get hurt.
As they did 3 nights ago, the police drove the peaceful protestors from the park (this time Union Square Park) and barricaded it. The park was closed to the public. It was an extremely odd spectacle, because in essence dozens of police became the occupiers of the park instead, standing awkwardly as hundreds of people watched them from across the police barricades. At least tonight was much less violent than 3 nights ago. The only apparent medical issue this time was a protestor who went into labor. 3 days ago one woman was clobbered into a seizure, and many others were injured.
I understand that some occupy protestors come across as self-righteous and naive. So what? Find me dissidents in history who haven't seemed self-righteous or naive. They have a legitimate point of view that they have expressed peacefully and often very, very eloquently. Isn't the purpose of the 1st Amendment to protect the unpopular, peaceful expression of dissent? And frankly, I don't think their speech is all that unpopular. I, for one, completely agree that far too much economic and political power is concentrated in the hands of the very people who triggered our economic crisis, and I'm deeply grateful that these people are making real sacrifices to say it.
To me it seems that the exercise of state power in this instance is directly related to the content of the speech being prevented. This is no mere time, place and manner restriction. When else are people prevented from peacefully congregating in public parks in Manhattan on a nice evening? And it goes far beyond evictions from parks. As the New York Times has been reporting, occupy activists are subject to constant harassment and surveillance.
I am deeply troubled by the repression of democratic dissent on public property. Are you? It makes me wonder what, exactly, I should teach my property students this semester about the use of public space to disseminate speech. Will these events effect in any way what you teach your property students?
Mark A. Edwards