When I covered the Occupy Wall Street protests last fall, I just couldn't stay focused, despite the fact that people from across the country and around the world were traveling to that block-long half-acre park of granite walls and honey-locust trees in lower Manhattan to build a new mini-society. It boasted free housing, free food, free medical care, free education, and free music. Every day in Zuccotti Park there were thrilling rap sessions and you could watch direct democracy in action as people came together to exchange ideas in provocative new ways. To steal a well-worn activist phrase, it looked like another world was possible.How to Fund an American Police State and get Real Money for an Imaginary War
Day after day, I would cover Occupy Wall Street and day after day, I would get hassled by members of the New York City Police Department. They didn't like it when I asked questions about their Sky Watch tower - a two-story-tall, Panopticon-like structure outfitted with black-tinted windows, a spotlight, sensors, and multiple cameras that spied on the park. They got angry when I counted their dozens of police vehicles around the plaza's perimeter, or when I asked questions about the unmarked white truck that just happened to have a camera mounted on a forty-foot pole protruding from its roof.
They trailed me, took pictures of me, demanded my identification, and repeatedly confronted me. One cop even declared my reporting "illegal." But I couldn't help myself. Watching the NYPD was like gawking at a car wreck. I was reminded of the police response to the 2004 Republic National Convention, but on steroids. To take just one example, back then, the NYPD had around 9,000 steel barricades to pen in protesters around the city - enough, that is, to stretch from one tip of Manhattan to the other. More than seven years later, the approximately 150 steel barricades that formed a cordon around Zuccotti Park were part of a NYPD inventory that could enclose the entire island in a formidable ring of steel.
In his latest article, TomDispatch regular Stephan Salisbury assures me that I was never alone in my fixation on the rise of a homeland security state, and his reporting gives even me pause. With Occupy protesters gearing up for a spring resurgence, Salisbury spells out just what activists will be up against - think unmanned drones, tanks, and super-sophisticated surveillance systems from New York City to Scottsbluff, Nebraska - in the months ahead. (To catch Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which Salisbury discusses post-9/11 police "mission creep" in this country, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Nick Turse