Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy Philadelphia's Reaction to Mayor Nutter: The Politics of Permits, Policing, Sexual Assault, and Civil Disobedience

While Mayor Michael Nutter's comments about reevaluating the city's relationship with Occupy Philadelphia have sparked media attention for the movement, it remains uncertain what the confrontation between city government and the Occupy movement will look like going forward.

Occupy Philadelphia hosted a press conference on Monday, November 14 at 1 p.m. at Dilworth Plaza to respond to Mayor Nutter's allegation that the movement was no longer cooperating and communicating with city officials.

Nutter said in a news conference on Sunday that, “The people of Occupy Philly have changed and their intentions have changed. All of this is not good for Philadelphia. We must change our relationship with them.” He said that "it is abundantly clear that 'Occupy Philadelphia' is in violation of the terms of its permit which requires it as an organization to observe our city ordinances ," posing safety hazards and sanity issues along with reports of thefts and violent assaults at the protest, . Nutter said that “misconduct is not free speech. The behavior that we're now seeing is running squarely against the needs of our city that also represents the very real 99 percent. As Mayor of Philadelphia, I represent the 99 percent also.”

Jody Dodd spoke on behalf of the movement's Legal Collective and attributed the failure of communication to the city's lack of sufficient information about the terms of the occupation's permit, affecting the General Assembly's decision to stay stationed at Dilworth Plaza.

“The original members of the Legal Collective have been joined by additional people committed to working for economic and social justice,” said Dodd. “We have not changed. The mayor's attitude has. We do, however, agree with the Mayor that we can and will continue to maintain open lines of communication to further the work of Occupy Philadelphia.”

On Sunday, November 13, Mayor Nutter announced he would be increasing police presence at the Dilworth Plaza after arresting a man for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in a tent at the protest.

Amanda Geraci spoke on behalf of the Women's Caucus, responding critically to the mayor's approach to addressing the problem of sexual assault. Geraci said, “We are concerned with the contradictory statements that the police and the mayor have made to the media about their support for the occupy movement, while simultaneously withholding support for situations of physical and sexual violence. The recent demonizing and vilifying of the Occupy movement in the media is a scapegoating of the problems and violence that plague our communities and cities daily." She also noted that in the last two weeks there had been 28 other sexual assaults in the city and asked rhetorically why Mayor Nutter had not held press conferences for any of those incidents.
Geraci added that the city's solution to problems at the protest reflect what they perceive to be the flawed solutions and expectations of the Philadelphia Police Department's broader strategy in the city.

They argued that just as in the city neither increasing police presence nor expecting people to police themselves is a viable solution to crime problems. She cited examples of “stop and frisk” policies as unfairly

With regards safety and security Geraci said the movement is “met with statements from police, such as follows; ‘That’s not our job. Get your men to handle it.” Geraci noted that compliance with the police in leaving the plaza was not entirely necessary, citing Rosa Parks and Philadelphia's own Cecil B. Moore as examples of those who fought injustice and inequality using civil disobedience as a tactic.
Mayor Nutter argued that by blocking the renovations at Dillworth Plaza, “Occupy Philly is now purposely standing in the way of nearly 1,000 jobs for Philadelphians in a time of high unemployment. They are blocking Philadelphians from taking care of their families.”

Mayor Nutter argued that groups such as the “Radical Caucus” are “bent on civil disobedience and disrupting city operations.” He called the actions of the group “intolerable” and accused them of “not acting in good faith.” He said, "We do not seek confrontation with Occupy Philadelphia.” Mayor Nutter asserts that he supports the Occupy Philly issues related to “unemployment, poverty, bank lending, homelessness, the rights of people to express themselves.

Philadelphia Police Officer Joesph Sposa disagreed with the idea that police and protesters could not cooperate while noting that confrontation would be beneficial to the movement's media coverage. He said, “I support the Occupy movement's message about the abuses of Wall Street but these people are expecting a direct confrontation for publicity, that's why all these reporters showed up today.” He noted how this reflects the way media coverage of crime in the city lives by the rule of “if it bleeds, it leads.”

Though the General Assembly has voted to stay at Dilworth Plaza, Protester Michael Baus noted that even though Occupy Philadelphia voted on Friday to stay, leaving the plaza remains a choice for individual protestors to make for themselves. Baus had no prepared remarks but announced on the microphones that he understands there will be differences of opinion at the protest, saying “We as the people who are staying also hope that we get that cross support of the people who are going to leave. This is a movement, and in a movement you are going to have discrepancies among the people who are your allies.” When asked whether he planned on staying he said “I plan on staying. I don't think I'm going to get arrested.”