Occupy Seattle Baptized in Pepper Spray

So, Tuesday night while I was getting ready and literally running late for the cross town 48 to go to the inaugural Transit Riders Union meeting the police were downtown pepper spraying (A) an 84-year-old woman, (B) a minister in clerical clothes, (C) a pregnant woman or (D) all of the above?

I wish it wasn’t so, but the answer is (D), which tells you a lot about what has been happening with the police once again with the Occupy movement. Ironically, former Police Chief Norm Stamper just wrote an article in the Nation Magazine about his regrets for giving the orders during WTO and the increasing militarization of the police.

My support for a militaristic solution caused all hell to break loose. Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict. The “Battle in Seattle,” as the WTO protests and their aftermath came to be known, was a huge setback—for the protesters, my cops, the community.

Indeed, that mentality still exists in Seattle. A quote on KOMO news (and this was after reports that the victims included 84-year-old Dorli Rainey, a pregnant woman and a priest – ok, there was slightly in error – on Reverend Lang’s religion): ” ”Pepper spray was deployed only against subjects who were either refusing a lawful order to disperse or engaging in assaultive behavior toward officers,’ said Seattle police spokesman Jeff Kappel.”

Hope the pregnant woman and her future child are okay. Dorli Rainey and the Reverend Rich Lang have come out of this energized, as violence only helps galvanize a movement.

Dorli tells what happened in the video above, on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown and there is no excuse for it. The crowd was getting ready to leave, and as Dorli notes, the way Occupy works this is no secret, there was a “mic check,” which would have loudly told them that. Instead of letting the crowd peacefully disburse, the police corralled them into the intersection with bicycles and let loose the pepper spray. It could have been much worse for Dorli, who nearly fell and could have been trampled by the crowd, but an Iraq vet nearby helped her. Listen to Dorli’s historical perspective on this, having lived in Austria during Hitler. Interesting as well, her perspective on the money interests from JP Morgan to our downtown developers for the downtown tunnel.

From the Countdown site:

She cites the advice of the late Catholic nun and activist Jackie Hudson to “take one more step out of your comfort zone” as an inspiration, saying, “It would be so easy to say, ‘Well I’m going to retire, I’m going to sit around, watch television or eat bonbons,’ but somebody’s got to keep ’em awake and let ’em know what is really going on in this world.”

Equally inspiring was the response of the Reverend Rich Lang of the University Temple Church posted by Bob Beatie on Facebook.

You could feel the tension and raw energy crinkling throughout the air as the marchers once again began their journey into downtown Seattle. The Occupy Movement is the prophetic voice of God calling out to the nation to “repent” and turn from its ways of corruption. Those who camp are a rag-tag, motley crew made up of mostly young adults, mostly unemployed, almost all of whom are alienated and cast out of America’s promise of liberty and justice for all. They are our canaries, the first fruits being devoured by the Beast of Empire.

The police knew who Reverend Lang was. “Throughout the march I, as a Pastor in full clergy alb, stole and cross, acted as a peacekeeper placing myself between the police line and the Occupy Movement. On four occasions I stepped between verbal battles between the police and the protesters.”

What happened?

The incident was minor in nature. A girl, dressed in Anarchist black waving the Anarchist black flag was plastered side by side with an officer on the bike. They were jawboning each other. At one point her flag was thrust in his direction — a provocation yes – threatening?—no. The officer grabbed the flag and in the pulling, pulled down the girl. Her friends reacted jumping in to pull her away from the officer. It was at this point that the first wave of pepper spray went off.

Point — one might think the officer acted within reason, that the officer was suddenly threatened. But with what? By whom? The friends of the offender were grabbing for the girl, they were not grabbing at the police. Basically the officer, and his comrades, were trigger happy as if they couldn’t wait for just this moment. And so the spray went forth.

I leapt to the front and tried to place myself between the parties — with spray in the air the protesters were also fleeing. Separation between the police line and the protesters was clearly visible … there was certainly no threat of the “mob” suddenly rampaging into the well armed police. The separation had occurred (as can be clearly seen on the video captured by King 5 News). But the spray continued. I walked between the lines, I was alone, I was in full clergy dress, everyone knew who I was and what I was — with the protesters fleeing and the police line holding — with my back to the police and my hands waving the protesters to get back — alone in full alb, stole and cross — six officers turned their spray on me thoroughly soaking my alb and then one officer hit me full throttle in the face.

Wow. . . “Seattle’s finest”. . . ?

I praise the courage and compassion, the discipline and the decency of the Occupy Movement. Out of the rag-tag mob came help, grabbing my hands, leading me (I was blind by then) to the wall and administering care and concern for my well being. The protesters were assembled around all the wounded, and maintained the discipline of nonviolence (granted the nonviolence was in behavior but not language). And they were not afraid. The spraying had been a baptism sealing them into the security of knowing that their prophecy of repentance was indeed the Spirit-Word through them — it is as if they did not prophecy their very bones would melt within them. Against the wall in increasing pain and burning I realized I was in the midst of church.

The police, on the other hand, were afraid. Their quick use of chemical warfare reveals how cowardly they are. The unwillingness of their commanders to maintain discipline reveals how incompetent they are becoming — the only tool in their bag is brutality and like a drunken raging father beating wife and kids, the police have increasingly disgraced themselves. Step by step they are being shaped into the front face of fascism, the emerging police state that protects the property interests of the Marie Antionette’s who have seized control of our government, commerce, media, military and increasingly the Church itself.

Wow again, and this time for the Reverend speaking truth to power.

There’s more. . . Reverend Lang not only calls out the police, he calls out his fellow clergy members to act:

My question to my clergy colleagues is this: Where are you? How much longer can you preach without practice? How dare you remain protected in your sanctuary while your people (the rag-tag mob of the least, last and lost whom Jesus loved) are slaughtered doing that which God has commissioned you to do (prophecy!). Where are you? Who have you become in this age of baptism by pepper spray? Do you not know how much power you have to stop our national descent into chaos? Don’t you realize that the world is your parish and right before your eyes the Spirit of God is doing a new thing? Can’t you hear that God’s judgment is upon the land? God is against the thieves that bankrupted our nation. God is against the armies of the Beast who pillage other lands in our name, and turn and destroy our people on our own soil. Are you blind? — Perhaps you need a baptism of pepper spray in your eyes to restore your vision.

And to the police I say this — there are always the brutal ones in our midst. As colleagues you have the moral responsibility to police your own. If your commanders order you to brutalize your people you have a Higher Command that says, “disarm yourself, turn away from your sin, renounce the orders of unrighteousness.” And in doing so, cross the line, come over and join us because we are the winning side of history. And we welcome your repentance and heal you of your shame.

And to the church, beloved church I say, you cannot sing the hymns of faith if you are too afraid to live that faith. In Amos it says to silence your sacred assemblies and let JUSTICE burst forth. Our nation, with the nations of the world, are under an assault of tyranny and treason of the 1% against creation itself. You may not worship God until and unless you care for the image of God living in those tents and prophesying on your behalf. Once the Powers sweep the Tents away, if you dare to lift your voice even a peep, you too will be swept away. But the destiny of the church, the Body of Christ, is not one of quiet passivity and fear, our destiny is to bear witness having no fear of the Cross because even now we have crossed over into resurrection.

I am reminded of the preacher in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Springsteen‘s The Ghost of Tom Joad (below with Tom Morello, who sang his intense version when he was in town at the Crocodile last month – more on that soon, hopefully):

We really have gotten that dark again, and for a lot of people it is already like the Great Depression times. What the Reverend recognizes in the Occupy Seattle encampment members that most people don’t want to see. We can’t keep going down this road without there being dire consequences.  Yes, there is more desperation for the homeless and others on the bottom.  How far down have we gotten as a society, as a state – the supposedly progressive state of Washington, when we already have kids living in tent cities because their families have been permanently cut off after reaching a lifetime maximum of assistance as the PI reported? Yet Chase is going tax-free on their mortgage interest income in Washington state, and, oh, surprise, as Dorli Rainey mentions in her interview, their affiliate JP Morgan has their hand prints all over that tunnel.

On the pepper spraying, the Mayor McGinn did apologize to Dorli Rainey (whom he knows personally) and the others, and I was glad to see his statement on the city website. I have to say, after reading the Mayor’s comments in the Seattle Times article after hearing Dorli Rainey and the Reverend Rich Lang’s accounts, that I agree with Occupy Seattle that his response was inadequate. Mayor McGinn echoed the police claim about a “violent element,” and from my own experience the night Chase CEO Jamie Dimon came to town and Dorli & the Reverend’s accounts of Tuesday night, the “violent element” trying to provoke a reaction is the Seattle Police Department. The crowd has been amazingly restrained, even after being pepper sprayed. Maybe the Mayor’s statements below were before he heard from Dorli Rainey and others?

He said he understood that some protesters in the crowd Tuesday, as well as during previous clashes with police, used the cover of the crowd to provoke violence.

“We’re well aware that there are individuals who have been extraordinarily provocative to police over the last six weeks. That was my point in apologizing to peaceful protesters.”

We’ll see how the police treat everyone when we cross the Montlake Bridge tonight. Union members as well as Occupy Seattle will be present. If I hadn’t been through WTO, I would believe that would mean a little more restraint from Seattle’s finest, who claim their guild as a union when they try do prevent meaningful police accountabilty from coming to Seattle.

Then, shades of Footloose in Seattle again, the Seattle Parks Department is trying to deny a permit for a hip-hop dance Friday night for Occupy Seattle at Westlake because it’s too late after dark. Now, what time does it get dark in Seattle in the winter?:

Dewey Potter, parks spokeswoman, said nearby residents had complained about noise during two previous concerts. The department asked the Occupy Seattle representatives not to amplify music after dark, which falls at about 5:30 p.m.

Yes, that’s right, kids – Seattle rolls up it’s sidewalks at 5:30 pm Friday nights! No demon rock and roll hip-hop! So, given the concern for sensibilities of downtown residents, I guess all Downtown Seattle Association‘s evening holiday festivities at Westlake are also cancelled this year? After all, this isn’t just about silencing the freedom of speech of young people, is it?

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