OCCUPY AUTHORITY – Samantha Withnell

13 Dec

On Tuesday, December 6th, a woman protesting with Occupy Melbourne was forcibly stripped of her tent costume by Victoria Police, and then left on the ground crying, clad only in her bra and underwear.

There is no back story that could ever justify this action. No verbal bullying or annoyance on this woman’s part can validate physical action, and neither can this behaviour be explained away as ‘necessary to get the woman to move from the park’ – or else why would the officers simply dump her there after the fact, exposed for all the public to see? This incident is nothing less than sexual harassment; public humiliation, if not sexual violence. A group of people not wearing police vests would have been charged immediately.

The fact that this act of sexual harassment occurred on the very same day as Canada-wide memorials for the December 6th shootings at l’Ecole Polytechnique in 1989 is painfully ironic. I attended a memorial held at the Rosza Centre on University of Calgary campus Tuesday, where the main theme was hope for future free of violence against women. Yet, within twenty-four hours, we are met with another example of the violence pervading society, and accepted by the authorities we depend on for protection.

The actions of Victoria police in Australia are not an isolated incident, however. Increase of police tactics using harassment and violence against peaceful protests is a global phenomenon.  From military crackdowns in Tahrir Square, to the myriad of bruised and injured protestors of all ages left by American police forces, to the quickly fading line between soldier and officer, to the increasingly disturbing information slowly leaking out about how far civil rights were violated during the G20 protests in Toronto last year, the sleeping masses have unconsciously allowed our police services to become the tool of tainted governments and the corporations and banks controlling them.

Of course, it would be entirely easy for the public to lynch our police service for their actions, and meet their undeniably difficult situations with hatred and distrust, but this problem goes further than just a few ‘bad examples’. The men and women serving in police departments are human, and they are also the 99%. They are likely just as worried about their pensions and jobs as the rest of us – like most of us, they have a boss, probably even more likely to fire or demote a person for their political affiliations or refusal to obey. If you think acts of police mishandling and brutality are caused by individual evil, you need only investigate the Stanley Milgram shock experiment, the Stanford-Zimbardo prison experiment, or, a more contemporary example, the Abu Graib prison scandal in Iraq.

Here’s a clear example of the weaponization of police handling protests,  provided by Occupy Sacramento:

The officers who evicted Occupy Oakland were not handling a riot situation or a warzone – but their use of ‘less-lethal’ projectiles and military-grade tear gas DIRECTLY CAUSED a riot situation. It directly led to the injury of an Iraq war veteran who had been taking part in the peaceful protest, and still has trouble speaking after brain surgery.

The ultimate questions that come to mind, observing all of these events and legislation giving police and military more domestic power around the world, are these:

If protest movements are becoming more and more peaceful, why are the officers handling them becoming more and more militarized? Is this the visible evidence that our administrations are in fear of popular dissent? Why are people on the street met with increasingly harsh treatment and sentencing, when the bankers and companies who knowingly stole trillions of our money live free from charge? How can ‘civilized’ western nations such as Canada and the United States dare to lecture Libya, Syria or Egypt on their attempts at democracy, when at home we are each day slowly losing those same rights and values that make us democratic?

I think it is due time every community re-evaluate its authority pact with their governments and policing services, and investigate the true necessity of our loss of freedom for some far-off, intangible ‘security’.

If any readers are or personally know someone who lives on that frontline as our police officers, I would love to hear your story, either in support or disagreement with my views.



Military crackdown in Tahrir Square





Milgram experiment on obedience to authority, 1961 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/14/scott-olsen-first-statement-occupy-oakland

Stanford prison experiment, 1971 http://psychology.about.com/od/classicpsychologystudies/a/stanford-prison-experiment.htm

Abu Graib prison torture scandal, 2004 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Ghraib_torture_and_prisoner_abuse


12 Responses to “OCCUPY AUTHORITY – Samantha Withnell”

  1. susanonthesoapbox December 19, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

    Violence against the protesters is inexcusable, whatever the cause, be it frustration on the part of City officials or a lack of comprehension on the part of ordinary citizens. When the general public sees the news coverage of these incidents–the war vet carted off in an ambulance or protesters pinned to the ground so that the police can put pepper drops in their eyes—we realize that something has gone terribly wrong. We recognize that the actions of the police are unwarranted overreactions. We start asking the same questions you’re asking here, why is it necessary to come down so hard on non-violent protesters? The administration, the municipal government and the police have all the power, what are they afraid of? So while it seems like the public is not paying attention, they are. And I think they’re beginning to get worried about where we’re going as a province and as a nation.

    Samantha, thanks for taking the time to research the issues and share your knowledge with us.

    • Samantha Withnell December 19, 2011 at 7:14 pm #

      Thanks for your reply!
      It’s interesting to me that as worldwide protests and social justice movements continue, many questionable new laws are coming in seemingly all at once, from the NDAA in the US to the Omnibus Crime Bill here at home. Very concerning.

      • Trisha Downy June 12, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

        I just want to challenge here. So when the Toronto riots were happening because of the G20 summit, my uncle was a police officer at those riots. He has video of what was happening. He was actually told to take his police stickers off the car because of the threatening atmosphere. The rioters were smashing store windows and looting. I can assure you that had happened and you can look for yourself on YouTube and that’s what you will see. The riot police had to somehow control it and had to use brute force because of how things were getting out of hand very fast. I feel bad for those store owners that went through all that and lost money from the looters. In fact, the damages caused by the riots was around $800,000. At the summit, they were actually debating about putting a tax on banks worldwide and figuring out how to fix the global financial crisis.

        Secondly, I know the billionaires and millionaires out there can look scarey because of how much influence they have financially. The richest man on earth which is Carlos Slim Helú, his net corporate holdings are at an estimated $70 billion. He had donated one of the biggest amounts which was $4 billion to Mexicos education, healthcare, housing, etc. Carlos also has a small house for a billionaire and has lived in it for 40 or so years. John Paulson which is another billionaire, donated $15 million to build a children’s hospital in Guayaquil, Equador. John Paulson also donated $100 million to the nonprofit that maintains New York City’s Central Park. What do you have to say about those guys that donate that much? They have likely donated more to public services then what was recorded.

        Again, this is to challenge not to start any fights. Rebuttal? Thanks.

  2. idnami December 15, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    “Is this the visible evidence that our administrations are in fear of popular dissent? Why are people on the street met with increasingly harsh treatment and sentencing, when the bankers and companies who knowingly stole trillions of our money live free from charge?”

    I think it is. There is the same sick irony to this phenomenon as Stephen Harper’s omnibus crime bill being passed at a time of dropping crime rates… and police budget cuts.

    We have seen the angry reactions towards Occupy from the same people whose plight we seek to shine a light on. Our society toes the line and becomes enraged with those who rock the boat against injustices which affect us all.

    We can see that police are people like us, lacking job security despite the value of their work, losing pensions and watching their paycheques stagnate. They must be angry too. But it is FAR easier to direct that anger towards an easy target than upwards. Peaceful, unarmed protesters are a very easy target, whether for police or anyone else.

  3. Samantha Withnell December 14, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    Some more information related to this topic:
    There is an ongoing power struggle in Ontario between police unions and organizations, and the Special Investigation Unit investigating police. Is this a sign that police departments view themselves about the law, or is the SIU inciting unfounded fear?

    An international news story concentrating specifically on militarization of police in the United States

  4. Jeryd December 14, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Well done Samantha, the violence against peaceful protesters is getting out of hand. Though I don’t think this is something that is totally new remember when student protesters were shot by the national guard May 4th 1970 at Kent State. This was met by a 4million strong student strike. Now people have utterly devalued the role of protest in society. I think the violence against protesters today is an attempt to make people see protests as not just useless but also as dangerous. So if tomorrow if a dozen students are shot in California for protesting with Occupy will there be a nationwide response like what happened in the seventies? Or will people see that kind of response as something that is useless and dangerous?

    This is the endgame I see unfolding; a state where laws aren’t necessary to institute a police state all that is needed is fear and apathy. People don’t seem to understand how drastically our freedoms have been infringed in the name of security that I see as unnecessary. I am reminded of a quote by Benjamin Franklin “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”

    • Samantha Withnell December 14, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

      I agree, the criminalization of dissent has been gradual, but it seems like the worldwide level of current protests are leading to even more hurried attempts by authority to make dissent seem useless and dangerous.
      Moving forward, we need to find a way to re-educate people about the values of free expression and questioning authority.

  5. TheCrimsonMavrick December 14, 2011 at 1:04 am #

    Terrorism is a tactic. Since the 01-09-11 (Y-M-D) terrorist attacks many forces have been placing money into R&D and technology to keep ahead of a threat. If the threat is real or not it does not matter because power preceived is power acheived. Regardless of what or who started it, what is more important is how people reacted to it. The reaction is what has caused a fear industry (or to make it more accurate) caused a spike in the fear industry.

    The fear industry is the use of perceived threat to justify the dis-arment and control of the civil populus. The underlying problem of which is a protectionist mentality. This mentality will have us trade our right to things that (if mis-used) can cause harm to others. Therefore, to protect us from ourselves they nerf us from our ability to protect ourselves and thus have to rely on them. This imbalance of power is why we see a military looking police responce.

    The truth is that no matter how many safe guards you put in place someone with evil intent will find a way. The question is to ask how people get an evil intent in the first place. “When there is crime in society, there is no justice.” – Plato. By criminalizing the rights of the poeple, we destroy justice. These disparities of income and power that have centralized and armed the power structures of our society are powered by knee jerk reactions of the civilians.

    So, are we beeing emotionally manipulated to surender our rights and freedoms in order to give more power to a centalized and ultimatly corrupt power; for an intangible sence of the greater good? I’ll let you be the judge of that. I know that I am taking a hard line when it comes to the influences I allow in my life. Not because I don’t care, but rather, because I do care; and want to be sure that what I care about is the right thing.

    • Samantha Withnell December 14, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

      The ‘War On Terrorism’ is especially concerning to me, because at my age, the threat of terrorism is all I remember. Anytime an administration wants to take away rights or comforts of the people, they just flash up an image of New York and appeal to our emotions and fear, whether it’s actually justified or not. The manipulation by governments and media is actually more scary to me than terrorism itself.
      Thank you for your response! 🙂

  6. Jeanette December 13, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    Very well reasoned and researched! I too will be sharing this with my friends and most of them are in America where much of the police brutality has occured. I wonder if the police are even aware that they are becoming more and more military like?

  7. Jan Bacon December 13, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    (hugs) Samantha… very well researched and written… I too have been watching with horror the increase in violence even (and especially) in countries we have trusted to operate as a democracy. I will share your words and hope my friends and acquaintances take note and open their eyes, we are all in this together.

  8. Oscar Wilde December 13, 2011 at 8:27 pm #

    Very good article!


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