Michael Bloomberg – The ‘Imperial Mayor’ of New York City   2 comments

I’ve been calling him this for some time. I don’t know whether I’m the first to do so, but I hope so. I hope it can be my small contribution to Michael Bloomberg’s legacy. I used to like him. I don’t know if I just wasn’t paying that much attention, or if Occupy Wall Street just hadn’t made him finally show his true colors.

At around 7:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, while many gathered in Times Square to bring in the new year, about 500 Occupy protestors gathered again in Zuccotti Park. NYPD members and “security officers” from Brookfield Properties stood guard nearby. The evening started peacefully enough, but then a mother and her two young daughters made the mistake of putting up a small child’s tent (about two feet tall). The police “stepped in”, the Occupiers eventually removed the troublesome tent, and the first crisis of the night was over. At about 10:50 p.m., some protestors and police wrestled over some of the metal barricades that surround the park. Police charged into the park, and at least one man was arrested, but again the tensions subsided. Then, just before 1:30 a.m., for a reason that is unclear in the New York Times article – unless there actually was no legitimate reason – the police descended:

“… security guards and police officers entered the park, where only about 150 people remained. A line of officers pushed protesters from the park and led about five people out in handcuffs. One officer used two hands to repeatedly shove backwards a credentialed news photographer who was preparing to document an arrest.

“A police commander announced through a megaphone that the park, which is normally open 24 hours a day, was closed until 9 a.m., but did not provide a reason. A few moments later, officers told the crowd that had just been moved from the park that the sidewalks surrounding Zuccotti Park were also closed, and directed people across Broadway.

“Just before the park was cleared, about 200 protesters marched north through SoHo and into the East Village. At 13th Street and 2nd Avenue, officers surrounded dozens of protesters walking on the sidewalk around 3:00 a.m. and began arresting some of them.”  (Actually, about 50 people were eventually arrested.)

This report will shock few, but that only makes it worse. In just these few paragraphs we have an outline of what has become a template for NYPD handling of mostly peaceful Occupy Wall Street protestors – and a template that is being more and more embraced across the U.S: unchecked and unnecessary force, cavalier disregard of laws and ordinances by the police themselves, mass arrests apparently intended to dissuade constitutionally protected protest,  and an attempt to squelch freedom of the press. (Even making a list of these objections by now seems tired, but I ask your forgiveness for it. If we accept these tactics, only more outrageous ones will follow.)

The context of this clearing of Zuccotti Park is obviously the now infamous cleansing of the Park on November 15, 2011. To later complaints the ACLU, numerous media organizations and journalists about Mayor’s Zuccotti “frozen zone”, which included attempts to freeze out journalists, Bloomberg answered, “The press made a big deal that they, you know, were denied their rights.” Obviously, he doesn’t think so, and he said so: “You don’t have a right as a press person, I don’t think, to stand in the way just in the interest of you getting a story.” He added that no one had been prevented from reporting – a patently false claim. He explained further in his weekly radio address on WOR-AM:

“In the middle of any police action, you just can’t let another group get in and get in the way of doing something, … It would also not be fair to the protesters, because then you’re running around, you’re working around things; it’s hard to find out what’s going on, hard to communicate, and then people can get hurt as well.” He was very clear that when it comes to the media, “They just had to stand to the side while the police did their job.”

This seems like quite a novel interpretation of what the freedom of the press entails, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, and the representative of Lower Manhattan, thinks so strongly enough to call for a federal investigation of the previous police action at Zuccotti Park. In his letter to Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the U.S., Nadler says, “This City indeed has a duty to protect the health and safety of all those who live and work in Lower Manhattan, as well as their right to the quiet enjoyment of their community, but that duty must always be discharged with respect for the fundamental First Amendment right to free expression, and to assemble peacefully and petition government for redress of grievances.”

On the specific concern of NYPD preventing journalists from doing their job, he states:

“In addition to my concerns about police misconduct with respect to OWS protesters, I am especially troubled that during and after the November 15th eviction from Zuccotti Park, the NYPD aggressively blocked journalists from reporting on the incident, and in some cases, targeted journalists for mistreatment.  Individuals without press credentials were also blocked from filming events, and were, in some instances, arrested apparently for taking pictures.  According to news reports, and a letter from the major daily newspapers and other major news outlets and organizations representing journalists, at least ten reporters and photographers were arrested while trying to report on the incidents at Zuccotti Park.  The NYPD forced journalists to leave Zuccotti Park, prevented members of the credentialed press from being present during the eviction, and used intimidation and physical force to prevent reporters and photographers from carrying out their journalistic functions. Many of those arrested were not charged with any offenses.  Additionally, the City reportedly closed the airspace above the area in order to prevent news helicopters from recording the actions.”

” In response to [these] widespread reports of altercations between press and police and the documented efforts by mayors in New York City and Los Angeles to strictly limit press access during raids on Occupy encampments, journalism organizations like Free Press, the Society for Professional Journalists, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the National Press Photographers Association have been working to defend journalists. In New York City, thirteen major news organizations came together to demand an immediate meeting with the NYPD to address their concerns.” Police commissioner Raymond Kelly promised afterwards that things would be different, but that never happened, and the NYPD  continue to block and intimidate reporters – with today’s incident in Zuccotti Park being only the most recent example.

Congressman Nadler’s response to other comments by the Mayor on this score are also worth noting:

“… Mayor Bloomberg has responded that reporters were restricted for their own protection.  This justification appears to have little merit.  Journalists enter war zones to inform the American people about the status of those conflicts.  I think they can be trusted to assume the risks associated with covering a non-violent protest.  The actions of the NYPD to prevent the press from covering the protests and the eviction affect core First Amendment values, not just the right of the press to report, but also the public’s right to be informed on matters of great civic importance. Given the importance of freedom of the press to our First Amendment protections, the need for the public to know how their government is discharging its duties and the City’s apparent lack of a credible rationale for taking these actions, these incidents are particularly disturbing.”

According to a publication by the Department of State, freedom of the press “… applies not just to a single person’s right to publish ideas, but also to the right of print and broadcast media to express political views and to cover and publish news. A free press is, therefore, one of the foundations of a democratic society….” [my emphasis]

It’s undeniable then, that the concern about Mayoral imperialism, now rearing its ugly head in the policing of Occupy Wall Street, is an issue of great import. It’s also clearly not a partisan concern. Eventually, whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent – or something else, your circumstances are likely to make you great appreciate these first amendment rights. Nor is this only a New York City issue, for it’s clearly something that is spreading across the country. Finally, to my religious friends who may feel that there are “bigger fish to fry” than those that we hear about from the Occupy Movement, or who are unsympathetic to the Movement and therefore not that upset about these abuses, I can only ask, “When the police enter your church to sniff around and see if you’re doing something they don’t like, will you be concerned then? Just asking, because that’s happening now too. (I might also add that clearly, the Golden Rule pertains here. You shouldn’t have to wait until it’s your rights being trampled upon before you become involved.)

These freedoms we enjoy and take for granted were secured at great cost to others. If we intend to keep them for ourselves and our children, we will have to do our part. Once they’re taken from us, it may be too late to act. You remember that Martin Neimoller quote, right?

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2 responses to “Michael Bloomberg – The ‘Imperial Mayor’ of New York City

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  1. Thank you for the article, we all need to share information as widely as possible because it will not be covered by the corporate controlled news organizations. I don’t know that I’ve heard imperial mayor, I call him the 1% mayor and have seen this utilized in many places, both get the point across and that’s what is important.

    Unfortunately the American people accepted the patriot act and embedded journalists in the aftermath of 911 and most have never looked back. The majority who accepted these ideas without question have since been convinced that freedom means a free market not the rights of individuals. We are so far down this road most are not even aware of the fact that we took a wrong turn so long ago. The rest of us who recognize that our Democracy is on life support can only keep trying to inform people and build our own networks and communities to help one another through what is coming which in my opinion is the fall of the American Empire. Just as the Romans we will fall at our own hands. Our country may have killed Osama Bin Laden but going to war in Afghanistan was a pact of mutually assured destruction (MAD). It is amazing to me that we followed the same path that destroyed the Soviet Union. Many Republicans believe that Reagan brought them down but he did not it was the draining of their resources by an un-winnable war in a third world country that lives in the stone age combined with the internal strife created by having a system that did not take care of it’s people.

    Our freedom has gradually been chipped away slowly, silently but just as deadly. Ideas that would have once been unacceptable were made palatable over time as the false choice of security instead of freedom was ingrained in the American psyche. Although I agree with your assessments and totally see where you are coming from with the Martin Niemoller quote even the Third Reich was brought down by people who recognized evil when they saw it and fought to end it. I only hope that we can stop this culture of greed, cronyism & imperial power peacefully and restore true democracy in this country before it goes much further down the road we are on which is frightfully similar to the rise of the Third Reich in Germany.

    There is a National Occupation of Washington DC planned for March 30th to bring attention to these problems. Details can be found on the October2011.org site. The original occupation by this group started in the beginning of October 2011 and is still there. I’m proud to say that I was there in the beginning when we were not permitted to be there and could not use tents but we slept on Freedom Plaza anyway. I could not stay on for the duration but the group is still there and has actions daily so you can really go anytime but I’m trying to spread the word about their presence and the March 30th National call to action so please share this information.

    Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity..
    – Dr. Martin Luther Kin Jr.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, and for what you’re doing. And thanks for the heads up on the March 30th Occupation. I’ve known something in DC was coming, but haven’t seen details – except that it seems like different groups may be calling for actions on different days. Could that be the case? (We don’t need that.)

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