By Alice Dubenetsky
BURLINGTON – After the gunshot suicide in City Hall Park’s “Occupy Wall Street Burlington” encampment last week, city officials and residents got a glimpse of the violent inclination of some of the protesters. During a meeting with Police Chief Mike Shirling and Mayor Bob Kiss, police arrested an individual who crossed clearly marked police lines surrounding the scene of the shooting. What ensued, and was captured on video, was a troubling look into the protesters lack of civility. As protestors angrily shouted “let her go” and became more and more agitated and threatening, a frightened looking Mayor Kiss waded into the fray and ordered the police to release the woman.
The shooting and its aftermath ended the illegal encampment at City Hall Park, but protestors continue to seek a place to stake their tents and continue their drug infused “protests”.
The International Socialist Organization (ISO Burlington) is squarely behind the Occupy City Hall Park disorder. ISO has long had a chapter at the University of Vermont, but in a recent blog post, they announced the formation of a new non-student branch, called the “City Branch”, which meets every Thursday evening at the Wheeler School on Archibald Street. According to the blog, they are heavily involved in several Occupy Vermont working groups, including Burlington.
In literature distributed by ISO Burlington, they castigate the capitalist system, claiming the function of government is to keep the population in line to propagate evil profit-mongering by a few at the expense and misery of the many. Their goal is to dismantle the capitalist system, and the methods for accomplishing this may be disturbing to many who joined the protest out of curiosity or an honest interest in reform. The ISO, in literature entitled “The Solution”, does not rule out violence as a means to achieve their goals. “The police are not our allies,” reads a portion of their brochure. “They may be working people but they don’t work for us. If we limit ourselves to tactics they might find acceptable we fail before we even start. All effective tactics will be equally opposed by the State, whether they are legal or not. A diversity of strategies and tactics allows for diverse populations to act on their own desires as they see fit.”
While the antics of the protestors are curious and even childlike to casual observers, their “occupy” strategy is nothing short of a stab at authority and a provocation. By daring city officials to enforce the law and remove their illegal encampment, they feel they are making a point, although exactly what that point is often remains unclear, except in the case of the ISO. While the ISO members and sympathizers candidly seek to end the so-called tyranny of capitalism, a portion of the Burlington occupiers seem to be simply chronic mal-contents who have the time and inclination to join the protest du jour.
The protesters pre-disposition to descend into a violent mob was clearly on display last week when the police tried to restore order and investigate the scene of the shooting. While many of the protesters were willing to cooperate with officials, others were attempting to incite the crowd to defy the police and create a more volatile and dangerous situation, such as occurred recently in Oakland, Portland and other U.S. cities.
Another radical group who has weighed in on the Burlington Occupy movement in regard to the Burlington Police Department’s actions after the shooting at the park is Operation AntiSec, an offshoot of the international hacker group Anonymous, who use the Internet to engage in civil disobedience.
AntiSec targets law enforcement to show their support of the national Occupy Wall Street movement. Their priority, in their own words, is to “steal and leak any classified government information, including email spools and documentation.” Originally, their prime targets are banks and other “high-ranking establishments.” They have since added police and other municipal authorities to that list, attacking the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association and others. AntiSec has hacked law enforcement websites, and dumped user names and password onto the Internet. They have even released personal information about individual officers, including addresses and phone numbers.
Sounding a lot like ISO Burlington’s literature, AntiSec said “We are attacking the police because they are the vicious boot boys of the 1% whose role in society is to protect the interests and assets of the rich ruling class…we have no problem targeting police and releasing their information even if it puts them at risk because we want them to experience just a taste of the brutality and misery they serve us on an everyday basis.”
In a threatening on-line message to #OccupyVermont and Burlington, AntiSec directed their comments to the BPD, saying that they had been watching the events of the past few days (when the protestors were removed). “What we saw will not be tolerated and the Burlington Police Department will have wished to act with more honor in a time of tragedy (apparently referring to the suicide in City Hall Park). We will not sit idly by and watch the police abuse their power…the time has come to show the City of Burlington and the Police Department of Burlington what it feels like to be brought down to their knees… we as different as you may think…we are everywhere and we are nowhere…we will not tolerate your abuse of power by shutting down the encampment in City Hall Park. They follow with a threat to launch a campaign called OpVermont on Nov 20 at 9 pm.”
Now that the BPD has shut down the encampments in the park, the future of the movement seems a bit uncertain, although participants have vowed to continue protesting. In a statement, the BPD offered to make the park available to the protesters during the parks usual hours, between 6 am and midnight. However, they included a stern warning to those who would incite violence: “While the vast majority of those in the occupy movement in Burlington …. have been a valued partner through this shared experience, there are a few that have now demonstrated a willingness to incite the larger group to impede lawful actions on the part of the police, and even seeded conversations about occupying buildings, taking over the current crime scene, or becoming intentionally antagonistic toward law enforcement. For those who impede lawful actions by law enforcement to include making physical contact with police officers in an effort to incite violence, that conduct will not be tolerated and you will face felony level criminal charges. Police presence is to ensure the right of some to protest and the safety of those present in the park and the larger community. We have been and will continue to be transparent in our operations. We will not, however, put officers at risk and allow conduct to deteriorate as a result of the actions of a few people.”