Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Zuccotti Park Asylum

It's no secret that much of the nation's homeless population is made up of the untreated mentally ill. Since a wave of "deinstitutionalization" in the 60s closed down state-run psychiatric hospitals, the sight of bag ladies and tramps sleeping under bridges has become a common one in most urban areas.

The epidemic of foreclosures and unemployment during the past few years has added members of the middle class to the homeless population.  Homelessness among returning veterans who suffer from PTSD and alcoholism and drug addiction and other war-induced illnesses has skyrocketed too.

So is it any wonder that Zuccotti Park and other "Occupy" sites have become magnets for homeless people looking for a little food, warmth and companionship? 

The New York Daily News , which has been right on top of the day-to-day coverage of all things Zuccotti Park, ran a piece by Harry Siegel yesterday claiming that NYPD has been "dumping" skid row denizens into the park. Protesters suspect that Mayor One Percent, Michael Bloomberg, is behind an orchestrated campaign to disrupt the encampment by filling it with the dregs of humanity.  However, as with every other ploy that he and his minions have used to try to destroy Occupy, Bloomberg's alleged move is having an unanticipated effect.  Far from causing fear and loathing among the "normal" occupiers, the disturbed arrivistes are getting some help and tough love from the park's own security detail.

By all accounts, the park "police" have a lot more heart than the city in dealing with the troubled souls. There are social workers in the park population who know just what to do and who to call. And if the new arrivals cause enough trouble, they're being kicked out under a newly enacted "Code of Conduct."  From today's News:

“If you want to be part of our group, you have to be civilized,” said Paul Isaac, 45, who is part of Occupy Wall Street’s security team. “Unfortunately, some people come to disrupt the peace.”
The list includes rules against stealing, sexual harassment and hurting others - including their feelings. The group also put a ban on fuel, weapons or drugs in the park..
“Basically, we want people to respect one another,” Isaac said.
The alleged dumping of the destitute and the addition of the homeless to the Occupy sites has finally forced the previously invisible reality of extreme poverty into the national spotlight.  Poor people never had a lobby or a voice before, and now they do.  "Nickel and Dimed" author Barbara Ehrenreich writes: 
What occupiers from all walks of life are discovering, at least every time they contemplate taking a leak, is that to be homeless in America is to live like a fugitive. The destitute are our own native-born “illegals,” facing prohibitions on the most basic activities of survival. They are not supposed to soil public space with their urine, their feces, or their exhausted bodies. Nor are they supposed to spoil the landscape with their unusual wardrobe choices or body odors. They are, in fact, supposed to die, and preferably to do so without leaving a corpse for the dwindling public sector to transport, process, and burn.
Homeless people never had neighbors with cell phones to record police brutality as they were rousted from their tent cities, and now they do.  They never had a reporter walk up to them and ask them about their lives, and now they have a chance to tell their own stories.  For every abusive or obnoxious derelict, there are ten more who are living lives of quiet desperation as the cold winter closes in. People in this movement are watching out for one another at the same time they're being mad as hell at the banksters and the thieves. 

And you can take the NYPD's non-denial denial about the dumping allegations with a grain of salt too. Police, hospitals and prisons all over the country have been caught in the act on numerous occasions literally discarding the humanity who just don't fit into "normal society." The most egregious case ever caught on film was that of a confused woman, still in hospital gown, being abandoned on a Los Angeles city street by an ambulance.  LAPD said it was
common practice for outside law enforcement agencies to act as taxi cabs to bring derelicts from outside the city limits for dumping on skid row.

The jackbooted storm troopers of the NYPD, the pepper spray, the orange kettling mesh, the mass arrests have only served to solidify public support of the protesters. So the latest ploy of exporting addicts and drunks to the camp sites may simply be the next phase of the Oligarchy's attempt to destroy the movement. This, from Allison Kilkenny of "In These Times":

This action forces OWS to focus its energy internally rather than externally. Now, the group is busy managing its own people, worrying about drug deals and dangerous behavior from possibly foreign enemy forces. This was focus that had previously been aimed outward and upward - targeting what OWS calls the "one percenters."
Like when a magician uses a distraction technique to draw the audience's attention away from a sleight of hand, the NYPD and Bloomberg's administration may be using addicts to distract from what they're actually doing, which is attacking OWS on multiple levels, and ingeniously, making it look like they're not attacking the group at all.
 One of the precursors to Occupy Wall Street was a campout protest over the summer called "Bloombergville."  Demonstrators had planned to "occupy" the front of the mayor's residence one night, but then called off their plans as a token of respect when Hizzoner's elderly mother passed away. NYPD later arrested the group for blocking a different sidewalk and they disbanded. Temporarily, as it turned out.

Bloomberg may be one of the richest of the overbearing overlords of the universe, but that doesn't mean he has any class. He can't hold a candle to the humanistic souls he professes to despise, and so obviously fears.

"And no matter who you are, if you believe in yourself and in your dream, America will always be the place for you." -- Michael Bloomberg, net worth: $18.1 billion.


Patricia said...

I heard on the news last night (NPR) that the people in Occupy Philadelphia are trying to take care of the homeless that are coming to the park in city hall. Police want them to leave so they can turn that park into an ice skating rink.. Occupy wants the money used for social programs. I think every poor kid in Philly should get a free pair of ice skates. There has been a large population of homeless for a long time in Philly (I went to Tyler School of Art and fed them when I had something extra). I think you're right and we have a bigger problem now with all these social problems resulting from Wall Street. We also have a tent city in Lakewood, here in Jersey. That's right a Hooverville! In 2011 we actually have such a thing. Sickening. Hat's off to Occupy and all the good work they are doing!

Kat said...

Ah, New York's finest:

Valerie said...

Karen, your journalism is always good, but I feel pretty sure that this is the best piece you have ever written. It deserves to go viral - if a written piece goes viral! I will certainly be linking it to every blog site I visit.

Bless you for your humanity and wisdom and bless those amazing protesters!

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks Valerie,
Much and many to be inspired by.

Valerie said...

Just when I was starting to feel a little discouraged that this movement was going to be hijacked, I read Karen's inspiring piece and now our friend, Neil, passed on a link to the Oakland Police Officers Association. It sure sounds like an olive branch to me. http://www.opoa.org/uncategorized/an-open-letter-to-the-citizens-of-oakland-from-the-oakland-police-officers%E2%80%99-association/

I hope both the Oakland police and the Oakland Occupy Movement can use this terrible experience to find some common ground. I don't imagine decent police officers enjoy being treated like pit bulls sent by the mayor and higher ups to attack peaceful protesters any more than peaceful protesters like being associated with bottle throwing thugs (who might even be agitators) who attach themselves to the movement.

I really think this could be a turning point. The Occupy Marine Corp. group is gaining support and if we can get a couple of city police organisations (like the Albany police) to refuse to hassle peaceful protesters, the tide can turn. As Chris Hedges said, when the guys and gals in the blue uniforms refuse to do the bidding of the plutocracy, the oligarchs will start to lose their grip on the system.

John Farrish said...

Glad to hear you survived the latest onslaught from the weather. it's a good thing global warming is a left wing plot and not real, otherwise these extreme weather events would really be bad.

Fabulous post; extremely insightful commentary. I've posted links to it and have encouraged my students to read it.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks. Many in the Northeast are still without power. Outages from storms now can take one week to fix. The utilities are just like every other corporation. Although publicly regulated, they are beholden to their investors, scrimp on inspections and employees, and we all suffer. Austerity meets climate change and it ain't pretty.

Valerie said...

Yes, John! And had the same ironic thought! In a sense, I am glad it is happening to the U.S. (sorry Karen). Otherwise, the deniers would really get away with their ignorant beliefs; so often other countries reap the consequences of our selfish environmental policies. I hope this shakes some East Coast, Fox watching, conservatives into questioning their climate beliefs.

Well, I followed the Oakland protest and was dismayed at how the police showed up in riot gear and shot tear gas - at least this time with a warning - at the protesters when they wouldn't disassemble. I have the e-mail address of the police association and am thinking about writing a letter. They are certainly part of the 99% but if they continue to act as the foot soldiers for the 1% they aren't any better than the politicians in collusion with the 1%. I felt so sorry for the majority of protesters who wanted to peacefully protest. It sounds like there were agitators in the crowd (send by who? representing themselves? we don't know) who covered their faces and were bent on violence. It ended up being the peaceful protesters who stopped them. Maybe the police should get out of their riot gear and start doing some community policing of the trouble makers instead of focussing on those who are interrupting the flow of traffic.

Glad you are back, John Farrish. Always appreciate your insights.

Valerie said...

Check out those wonderful OWS Occupiers! When the police raided their stuff and took all their power generators, these ingenious young people got to work. And look what they came up with! You gotta love 'em!


Me Again! said...

There is a really important interview on Democracy Now with Michael Hudson. (Thursday, November 3. The interview starts about 29 minutes into the show.) It centers around the Greek debt and the role that American investment banks have in seeing Greece accept austerity measures.

Not only did Goldman Sachs help Greece fudge the books in order to get into the EU, apparently they and their ilk went against the accepted wisdom that Greece would be unable to pay back their debt and insured it anyway – for a huge profit. Now that it looks like the Greek people might refuse austerity, the investment banks and hedge funds are about to lose their shirts. So they send in Obama to basically threaten the EU if they don’t cooperative with the American banks and cut Greece off at the knees. “He (referring to Obama) is making the threat that
Europe has to cut its own throat in order to save the United States’ hedge funds and banks from taking a loss on the Greek bonds that they have insured.” Michael Hudson.

Anyone who, like me, has been fuzzy on what has been going on in Greece and how it relates to America really should take the time to hear it. It is utterly shocking the way these banks are acting and they certainly have Obama readily doing their dirty work for them. They are despicable people and Obama and Geithner are despicable as well.

James F Traynor said...

@Me Again!

Just show the Democracy Now video you mentioned. Scary as hell when you put it together with the Nation article describing current conditions in Greece at the hoi polloi level. Not that I wasn't aware of much of it.

I am not a catastrophist, conspiracy freak or survivalist, but I do and have paid attention to finance for a considerable number of years. The whole of Western civilization is in desperate peril because of the idiocy of a few. And those few are not the people of OWS.

Karl said...

It was obvious to me from the beggining that Law Enforcement was treating OWS in a similar fashion to the way they treat the Homeless.

Maybe some of the protesters will begin to ask why we have this "Permanent" homeless population, a feature that began to appear during the Reagan years.

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