Naomi Wolf Arrested For Existing On The Street

The NYPD is getting out of hand in its use of gratuitous threats and arrests at Occupy Wall Street. But last night, the police picked the wrong woman to arrest: Naomi Wolf, well-known author and activist, who had occasion in the course of reporting on techniques used to suppress street protests to compile research on the kinds of permits New York City requires of demonstrators, and specifically, exactly how sidewalks may and may not be used.

Wolf was NOT protesting at the time of her arrest. Dressed in an evening gown, she was standing with her partner outside the venue of a Huffington Post event for which she had a formal invitation. But that did not save her, in the ensuing exchange, from being arrested along with about 20 Occupy protesters. Wolf was separated from the protesters, taken to a different precinct station, separated from her partner with whom she was attending the HuffPo event, placed in a “faeces- or blood-smeared cell,” and eventually released when NYPD figured out they had a hot potato in their hands.

Wolf was later told that “when the protesters marched to the first precinct [apparently at the instruction of the police – SB], the whole of Erickson Street was cordoned off – ‘frozen’ they were told, ‘by Homeland Security’.” Just what are the limits of DHS’s scope? On whose authority did they cordon off an entire New York City street? Can DHS now instantly rewrite city laws to suit their needs on an occasion that could by no stretch reasonably be called an emergency?

My lifelong commitment to obeying the law has rested until now on the reasonable expectation that the law to be obeyed is clearly stated, well-known to police officers, and typically (though certainly not always) enforced evenhandedly and maybe even with sensible discretion. Now I find that the New York police are quite literally the bad guys, the ones willing to violate the law by using the very considerable powers available to law enforcement against citizens not engaged in any illegal activity. “Obey the law and you’ll stay out of trouble,” once good advice, seems no longer to hold true.

I do not like the direction this is going!

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  • jams o donnell  On Thursday October 20, 2011 at 7:52 am

    I was absolutely horrified when I read Naomi Wolf’s account of her arrest. What the hell are the NYPD brown, sorry, white shirts playing at? They are the ones breaking the laws, not the protestors

    • Steve  On Thursday October 20, 2011 at 12:10 pm

      jams, they really did pick the wrong gal this time. Naomi Wolf is much admired and her books are always big sellers. I can’t speak to the efficacy of her approach, but there’s no doubt that the writer has a better chance of establishing her story as history than the non-writer.

  • NTodd Pritsky  On Thursday October 20, 2011 at 9:14 am

    One thing to keep in mind about all of this: arrest is not necessarily a bad thing and even part of the tactical/strategic approach. At the very least, when we engage in CD, we must expect arrest even if we don’t court it, and that has its own benefits (e.g., backlash, overwhelming administrative systems). This also shows just how ill-prepared the regime is to deal with #ows, which means we need to keep it going. The pressure is working.

    • Steve  On Thursday October 20, 2011 at 12:04 pm

      NTodd, many OWS people have been arrested, and I agree that well-publicized arrest is often part of the strategy of civil disobedience. But my point here is that at the moment she was arrested, Naomi Wolf was not engaging in CD, unless you consider it CD merely to refuse an illegal order by a person in power. It appears to me that she was arrested for knowing the law about sidewalk use. Standing on a sidewalk outside an event to which you have a ticket can hardly be construed as CD.

      And I agree with you that NYPD and indeed all of NY officialdom is ill-prepared, far more so than they think, for what appears to be coming. I am concerned that the next stage by TPTB will be premeditated violence. Their agents provocateur have had little success stirring up response from the Occupy protesters, so they may eventually simply make up an excuse to go in with batons flailing and canisters spraying… or even rubber bullets, as were used a few years ago in Seattle.

      Or they may well commit another kind of violence. As I read on Fallenmonk’s blog, NY and Phila. have deployed (not yet used) LRADs to split people’s eardrums. Add this to your list of protester’s basic carry-with gear: ear plugs, just in case.

      Read Bryan’s site (Why Now?) lately: it is his opinion that the blue-clad rank-and-file officers are doing the minimum they can to keep their jobs, and are arresting OWS people only on orders from the white-shirted management types.

      • NTodd Pritsky  On Thursday October 20, 2011 at 12:32 pm

        Oh no, I wasn’t really commenting on Wolf’s arrest, just a general observation for anybody out there. Sometimes people don’t look at arrest in the proper context is all.

        But yeah, if she did refuse to obey an illegal order, I’d still call that CD because it’s defiance of authority. That’s essentially what it always is: deeming a law to be illegal and/or immoral, but since it’s part of the civil structure your disobedience is an act of conscience that carries consquences.

        • NTodd Pritsky  On Thursday October 20, 2011 at 12:36 pm

          Adding: I do NOT want to see some sort of Kent State or anything, yet will observe that often massive CD results in increasingly violent oppression, which is bad but also ends up being an opportunity for greater mobilization and change. I have (unpopularly) posited that Kent State resulted in more ultimate good than any previous actions. It wasn’t a necessary thing, as longer, more concerted efforts could have been successful, but crisis can create good outcomes if people stay committed.

          • Steve  On Thursday October 20, 2011 at 2:09 pm

            NTodd, the irony was that Wolf knew the law, the cop apparently didn’t, and the cop decided to make it a whose-is-longer contest. Wolf debated with herself for a moment whether to make an issue of it, then decided she had no choice, that yielding would have set a bad example for the Occupy folks.

            One of my friends attended Kent State in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She remarked that the university (to all appearances a fine school) has still not recovered from the event, specifically, from the controversy between people who saw the National Guard’s actions as atrocities and people who backed them 1000 percent. Perhaps it was ultimately good for the national dialogue on Vietnam Cambodia, but beyond the tragic deaths and woundings, it was terrible for the school. There is no act in the world that has only one consequence.

            • NTodd Pritsky  On Thursday October 20, 2011 at 2:35 pm

              “There is no act in the world that has only one consequence.”


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