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Police Fail to Frame Us

Update, 3/5/13 1:37 p.m.: A Philadelphia court has found in favor of the Wells Fargo 14. According to Occupy Philly Media, the charges stemmed from "a sit-in they conducted at Wells Fargo in center city in November of 2011. During the action they 'foreclosed' upon Wells Fargo, a bank known to engage in racist predatory lending, unjust foreclosures, selling bad loans to the Philadelphia school district and profiting from them, and for playing a significant role in orchestrating the mortgage debt crisis which ultimately contributed to the country's current recession."

The Power of the People is greater than the people in power. We Are the 99%. That means we have more eyes, and even more cameras, than they do.

In Occupy Wall Street's first jury trial, Michael Premo has been found innocent of some very serious charges, vindicated by some footage shot by Democracy Now!

As Nick Pinto writes in The Village Voice:

In the police version of events, Premo charged the police like a linebacker, taking out a lieutenant and resisting arrest so forcefully that he fractured an officer's bone. That's the story prosecutors told in Premo's trial, and it's the general story his arresting officer testified to under oath as well.

But Premo, facing felony charges of assaulting an officer, maintained his innocence. His lawyers, Meghan Maurus and Rebecca Heinegg, set out to find video evidence to contradict it. Prosecutors told them that police TARU units, who filmed virtually every moment of Occupy street protests, didn't have any footage of the entire incident. But Maurus knew from video evidence she had received while representing another defendant arrested that day that there was at least one TARU officer with relevant footage. Reviewing video shot by a citizen-journalist livestreamer during Premo's arrest, she learned that a Democracy Now cameraman was right in the middle of the fray, and when she tracked him down, he showed her a video that so perfectly suited her needs it brought a tear to her eye.

For one thing, the video prominently shows a TARU cop named Bosco holding up his camera, which is on, and pointing at the action around the kettle. When Premo's lawyers subpoenaed Bosco, they were told he was on a secret mission at "an undisclosed location," and couldn't respond to the subpoena. Judge Robert Mandelbaum didn't accept that, and Bosco ultimately had to testify [Correction: Bosco didn't take the stand; he had to appear at the District Attorney's office for a meeting with Maurus and prosecutors. Judge Mandelbaum accepted that Bosco would likely say on the stand what he said in the meeting, and didn't require him to testify.] Bosco claimed, straining credibility, that though the camera is clearly on and he can be seen in the video pointing it as though to frame a shot, he didn't actually shoot any video that evening.

Even more importantly, the Democracy Now video also flipped the police version of events on its head. Far from showing Premo tackling a police officer, it shows cops tackling him as he attempted to get back on his feet.

This was a clear instance of the military crowd control tactic called 'snatch and grab.' According to Occupy Wall Street participant Matthis Chiroux, familiar with the tactic as a result of his military training, snatch and grab "consists of a dual process of intelligence gathering and target extraction. Leaders or agitators within the crowd are identified, after which a line of soldiers, usually in a diamond wedge, push into the crowd so that one or two soldiers in the rear can grab the identified agitators and remove them, thus ripening a crowd for dispersal. Often times, cameras are used to identify potential targets.” Premo, and dozens (if not hundreds) of others arrested in this way, have remained undeterred from their work in pursuit of lasting change. However, many more have been intimidated out of participation in public assemblies, including Chiroux himself.

VIDEO: Police Picking Out Protestors, September 26th, 2011

When the 99% stand up for themselves, the police are there to defend the 1%, kettling, gassing and using “snatch and grab” tactics against those engaged in peaceful assembly. But as Steve B has argued (himself a victim of a "snatch and grab" arrest on September 17th this year) OWS established a very powerful counter-authority of its own. In this instance, as in the case of the macing of three young women in the early days of Occupy Wall Street, media activists did a great deal to help establish that peaceful counter-authority.

Notably, in most of the high-profile cases that have gone to trial, the courts have found in our favor:

  • Most recently, in January, a federal judge finalized a $1 million settlement for UC Davis students and alumni who were repeatedly doused with military-grade pepper spray at close range while seated non-violently during demonstrations on November 18, 2011.
  • In June 2012, the courts cleared the way for a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of the 700 people kettled on the Brooklyn Bridge in October 2011.
  • In September 2012, the mass midnight arrests of 300 people assembled in Grant Park in, were ruled unconstitutional by a Chicago court. The ruling found that when the Chicago Police Department alleged that protesters were violating the park’s 11 pm curfew and arrested over 300 people, they were imposing a curfew which restricted free assembly and was thus unconstitutional when applied to the protesters.

They can kettle, gas, and grab at us, but it bears repeating: the Power of the People is greater than the people in power.

And all of us who know Michael Premo – one of the powerhouses behind Occupy Sandy – know that he will be getting right back to work this week.

Rebecca Manski/OWStreetnet
We don't ask permission for our right to assemble.

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Woman holding sign reading, "If they enforced bank regulation like they do park rules, we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place."