The NYPD is a war machine. With 34,000 soldiers, its own intelligence agency, branches in 11 cities including Tel Aviv, Istanbul and Toronto, anti-aircraft capabilities, a fleet of tanks, boats, helicopters, and a submarine, the NYPD's capabilities mirror the occupational powers of America's counter-insurgency focused military.
Anywhere else in the country, it would be too much to ask the police to keep marchers on a sidewalk: police would be overwhelmed, flanked, or surrounded. Instead they allow protesters to have the streets, relying on space and lack of escalation to make a march useless. When confrontation is met, it often takes more classical formations: lines of cops facing crowds of protesters. In Oakland, the OPD relies heavily on tear gas and maintaining distance between police and protesters: moving forward as a wall, goose-stepping shoulder to shoulder down broad avenues while firing less-lethal munitions across the gap.
But in New York there are so many fucking cops they can line up right in your face and keep you on the sidewalk with their idiotic little scooters. If other police forces often fight at a distance, picking their moments when the crowds are most massed, the sheer number of NYPD means they prefer a scrim: in the narrow streets of NYC, the police get up close, using pepper spray and batons, arresting frequently and all staccato, attempting to split marches and single out leaders. They make lots of arrests because they can always afford the extra manpower to do so, and they constantly engage in close-combat because they
know they won't be overrun. These tactics appear to varying degrees in all cities, of course, but in no other city is the control of protests so consistently achieved by sheer force of numbers.
Of course, when all you've got are pigs, everything looks like slop. The NYPD have the numbers to achieve total control of the streets, and so they almost always insist on it. The thing is, without the insistence on total control, you probably wouldn't have had the video of three screaming women, pepper sprayed and trapped in orange netting, that more than any other image helped spread OWS beyond downtown Manhattan.
The tactic of confrontation toward dispersal that the NYPD deploys over and over again is hardly strategically sound. The imperative to clear the streets NOW, no matter the violence or arrests, may work to shut down marches in the moment, (and, had it been used to clear Zuccotti on September 17th, might've saved the state a whole lot of trouble) but it also builds rage, solidarity and the possibility of offensive escalation on the part of protesters.
Last night's police attack on the Kimani Gray vigil and march fits into this pattern exactly. Once demonstrators have achieved a critical mass that refuses to flee from police escalation, things, well, escalate, until there's no stopping a march without mass arrests and violence. At last report, over 50 people were arrested, including Kimani's sister Mahnefah. Cops shoved, beat, and pepper sprayed indiscriminately, although they focused their arrests on black kids from Flatbush.
The NYPD is a war machine, and its goals in policing protest resemble nothing so much as the military objective of victory through taking territory, purging your enemy from the field of combat. The pigs' problem, as Vietnamese, Iraqi and Afghani insurgents have demonstrated, is that losing an open battle doesn't demoralize a resistance that's defending its home. The way NYPD wins its battles, they're always in danger of starting a war. They may have done just that last night.
There are some people facing serious consequences this morning (particularly kids on parole and/or with previous arrests), and this is not to downplay the fact that last night was a loss. Whenever anyone goes through the jails of this monstrous city, it is a loss. But it's the kind of loss that intimates a bigger fight to come, one that might be winnable.
Solidarity with all those arrested or injured last night.