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Unify for Occupy Oakland

by nobody Friday, Nov. 04, 2011 at 11:21 AM

To build the 99%, we must find unity across the economic and social strata, or the Occupation movement will be correctly derided as a quasi-elitist middle class project.

Unify for Occupy Oak...
img_0135.jpg, image/jpeg, 600x459

I was unable to make the start of the big march, but toward the end of the march, around 250 people remained marching in support of Occupy Oakland's call for a general strike. It's too bad that it wasn't larger, because some people decided to sit out this march and hang out at the camp, which was pretty busy upon their return. According to one person, some of the benchwarmers didn't see the connection between what Occupy is protesting and the police.

Needless to say, I was shocked. The connection should have been clear after the ACCE direct actions against eviction to pressure a bank to renegotiate Rose Guidel's mortgage. The people were camping out on her lawn in anticipation of a sheriff deputy showing up to evict the family.

The relationship between the banks and the police is simple: the police enforce private property laws, and the banks are the primary financiers helping people and businesses buy and rent large pieces of private property. When there are problems with contested ownership, the bank will call on the police to enforce the private property rights of the bank.

The banks call the police because the police are the only institution that is allowed to use violence to enforce private property rights. The bank cannot legally go in and assault a squatter.

* Occupy Oakland and Enforcing Private Property

In Oakland, the police were ordered to clear out Oscar Grant Plaza (aka Frank Ogawa plaza), a city-owned parcel of land. Within the US system of laws, the property is characteristically private, even though a public entity owns it. The city is responsible for the property, and I believe they can sell the property.

The occupation of the Plaza was an affront to the private property rights of the City. It was happening without permission, and if the occupation could take that space, other groups could argue for occupying other spaces owned by the City.

In the process of asserting the City's property rights, the police used tear gas, and shot a canister into Occupyer Scott Olson's head.

* Protecting Property versus Protecting Human Beings

Enforcing private property is the most common task for police departments. Though violent crime is often used to argue for more police, it's really property crimes that make up the bulk of police work. You can go to ther LAPD crime map site, or the LA Times neighborhood crime maps, and you'll see that the vast majority of incidents are property crimes, usually burglary.

Typically, the police won’t catch people in the act of committing burglary or robbery - they just aren’t there when it happens - so they will take down reports. Most of their property enforcement is actually against the resale of property (shutting down fences or chop shops), or evicting people from foreclosed houses, or evicting squatters, or arresting shoplifters in retail businesses.

* Police Protection in Different Neighborhoods

Police in areas where most homes are owner-occupied, or mortgage-holder-occupied act differently than police in areas where most homes are rented out. Compare the attitude of police in South Central or Boyle Heights, where 75% of households are renters, to the attitude in areas like the downtown loft area or most suburbs, where most households either own or have mortgages.

In the former, the police are largely invisible - you just don’t see them that often. When they become visible, it’s usually to deal with a burglary or domestic incident, or the infrequent loud party. The residents have a positive relationship with the police. In the loft areas of downtown, the residents fawn over their cops, who they perceive as the barrier between their fancy lives and the misery of the people who sleep on the sidewalks.

In the latter communities, which are often only blocks or a short mile from the former, the police are a constant presence, particularly with their low-flying LAPD helicopters, and sometimes a malevolent force. While it is true that there are more crimes being committed, particularly auto theft, drug markets, and street vending, these are not the only reasons. In particular, it’s often people who live in the wealthier communities who are purchasing stolen auto parts and recreational illegal drugs; that begs the question why police enforcement is so one-sided.

These crimes occur in these working class communities because there are too few jobs, where the unemployment levels constantly exceed 10%, and in deep recessions are closer to 25%, creating a large pool of impoverished people who need ways to earn a living. Beyond that, the police and local governments basically allow these crimes to occur in working-class communities, because a crackdown on these activities would generally push the crimes out to the middle-class neighborhoods. If every brothel in NELA or South Central were moved to be closer to its customers, a lot of brothels would be opening in the wealthy parts of town, like Hancock Park and the Hollywood Hills. If drug market operations were broken up, they could re-form in more affluent neighborhoods closer to their customers.

This doesn’t happen because there would be a strong protest against moving crime closer to the people who are the customers of crime. The presence of the underground economy operating in the open tends to lower property values.

* Supporting the Police instead of the Working Class Splits the 99%

According to City-Data 52% of households in Los Angeles County are renters -- in the City of LA, it’s 61%. A significant fraction, perhaps a majority, live in the southside, on the eastside, northeast, and farther areas of the San Fernando Valley, or in barrios surrounded more affluent areas.

While those of us fortunate enough to live in owner-occupied housing, or in parts of town dominated by such, benefit from friendly relations with the police, the majority of residents, who live in working class communities, have precarious relations with the police. Most of the time, it’s good, but it’s also sometimes bad. Communities of renters are viewed by the police as “others” - and sometimes worse, as people to victimize with seemingly arbitrary citations, traffic stops, and in the worst situations, by planting evidence or getting into fights in order to get an arrest. (Look up the case of officer Adrian Schoolcraft of the NYPD.)

To build the 99% resistance to Wall Street, the middle class must lose their illusions about how the laws are enforced, and must give up their privileged position as the beneficiaries of state and police violence that protects their private property.

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