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The Other Side of the Tracks blog by Word Press

The New Kent State

The Other Side of the Tracks: A Socially Speaking commentary

November 22, 2011

By Perry Redd

 

You might find this extreme. You may strongly disagree with this statement, but you’ll eventually agree that suppression of free speech is a common theme in the police reactions to Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests nationwide and those protests that take place in solidarity with OWS protests.

The University of California at Davis (UC Davis) has placed two police officers on administrative leave after video of them pepper-spraying non-violent protesters at point-blank range sparked outrage across the nation at UC Davis school officials. Why would someone approve of violent tactics against Americans…and our young people—our future—at that?

Last week’s incident has led to calls for the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, who announced the action in a written statement Sunday. Katehi said she shares the “outrage” of students and was “deeply saddened” by the use of the chemical irritant by campus police. That statement is politically correct, but does nothing to prevent the militarization of our “servers and protectors.”

I have said since early this year that I had doubts about the veracity and authenticity of the so-called “Arab Spring.” I’m not speaking of the sincerity of the participants, but in the origins of the move(ment). Tahrir Square—once a center of euphoria following the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak in February—continues to be a major flashpoint for the unrest.

The number of people wounded in three days of clashes in Egypt has reached 1,700, a health ministry spokesman said Monday. My point here is today, it’s pepper spray; tomorrow, it will be bullets. When is it our time to put a stop to the over-policing we are witnessing? We have elected people into positions who appoint people into positions to protect their positions. By our complacency, we have allowed those elected persons to transgress our Constitutionally protected rights to free speech—the very thing we spent precious American dollars, resources and lives to help Arab nations gain. Free speech has been a subjective casualty in this country.

The Black and white of these assaults cannot go unmentioned. America has sicced its police forces on Blacks during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. It took a while for America to become outraged, but when our country attacked white students from middle class families, it was time for immediate redress. Some of us remember America’s assault on peaceful demonstrations against the Ohio National Guard’s shooting on May 4, 1970 of unarmed college students protesting the American invasion of Cambodia. The guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis—all to quell peaceful protests. Sound familiar?

You might recall the Supreme Court in March of this year that ruled a grieving father’s pain over mocking protests at his Marine son’s funeral must yield to First Amendment protections for free speech. All but one justice sided with a fundamentalist church that has stirred outrage with raucous demonstrations contending God is punishing the military for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality. Strangely enough, police did not pepper spray the Westboro protestors—and they were hateful in their mannerisms and message!

The 8-1 decision in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, was then the latest in a line of court rulings that, as Chief Justice John Roberts said in his opinion for the court, protects “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.” Can we see that Occupy protests qualify as “hurtful speech” to banks, governments and corporations? To attack the UC Davis students for their silent, the epitome of peace protests is an affront to all of us! It is indeed politically motivated with conservative interests and corporations directing law enforcement to do their bidding.

And furthermore regarding Egypt, 20 people have died, including at least 10 on Sunday in confrontations between protesters and security forces in Cairo. Doctors at Cairo’s Tahrir Square said injuries include gunshot wounds, excessive tear gas inhalations (made in Jamestown, Pennsylvania) and beatings to the head. This is on the horizon for the United States, if OWS protests don’t subside and the protestors don’t submit to police orders.

I call on the protests to not only continue, but accelerate.

Opponents of the Occupy movement ask the benign question, “What do they want?” They know what the protestors want: justice, equality and jobs. They want an end to the economic corruption that sparked the collapse of the American economy. They want to balance the economic disparities that have decimated the middle class. They—we—want those who were elected to oversee our interests to do what they were elected to do! Egypt’s parliamentary elections are set to take place November 28th, but demonstrators are upset about a proposed constitutional principle that would shield the military’s budget from scrutiny by civilian powers. They worry that the military would be shaped as a state within a state. We know that too much unchecked power is a dangerous thing—in the hands of people with guns. That’s why America doesn’t trust the Tea Party…but back to Egypt.

The military in Egypt said it wants to transfer power to a civilian parliament and president, but many citizens are dissatisfied with the pace of the transition and the resolve of the military rulers. You see, they’re talking about transfer taking place late next year! That’s the farce of the Arab Spring. The fight must continue to make it genuine.

The “American Autumn” (Occupy movement) must be encouraged by the Mahatma Ghandi quote: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Initially, OWS couldn’t get press coverage at first; now the mainstream news reports on the growth of these protests daily. Then, Fox News spent valuable airtime (and still does) ridiculing the protests. Since it’s leaderless, Fox News can’t target the leader. We are entering the third leg of this battle for justice, equality and jobs. The images of the UC Davis police officer pepper spraying those silent, peaceful student protesters will go into textbooks and cyber curriculums across the nation. OWS is in its infancy; it is change in America—change we must believe in. And to think that Canada spawned this change ought to make us in America re-think our priorities.

One thing we know is that free speech isn’t free. Our country is paying a high price, but as my mother used to tell me, “Nothing worthwhile is easy.” The dogged efforts of legislators to over-fund law enforcement agencies is an assault on our right to speak openly, honestly and freely about the theft of the American Dream. Beware of maintaining the status quo in elected leadership; because if we do nothing about that, then we’ll re-live Kent State.

Last week global justice activist Arundhati Roy with a peoples amplification system (a grassroots human microphone) said in a speech delivered at OWS New York City, and I’ll paraphrase, ‘the poorest of people are stopping the richest corporations in their tracks…few of us dreamed that we’d see you—the people of the United States—on our side, trying to do this in the heart of empire.’ We cannot allow a new Kent State.

 

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