National Lawyers Guild Files FOIA Requests Seeking Evidence of Federal Role in Occupy Crackdown

With Congress no longer performing its sworn role of defending the US Constitution, the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee and the Partnership for Civil Justice today filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) asking the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the CIA and the National Parks Service to release “all their information on the planning of the coordinated law enforcement crackdown on Occupy protest encampments in multiple cities over the course of recent days and weeks.”

According to a statement by the NLG, each of the FOIA requests states, “This request specifically encompasses disclosure of any documents or information pertaining to federal coordination of, or advice or consultation regarding, the police response to the Occupy movement, protests or encampments.”

National Lawyers Guild leaders, including Executive Director Heidi Beghosian and NLG Mass Defense Committee co-chair and PCJ Executive Director Mara Veheyden-Hilliard both told TCBH! earlier this week that the rapid-fire assaults on occupation encampments in cities from Oakland to New York and Portland, Seattle and Atlanta, all within days of each other, the similar approach taken by police, which included overwhelming force in night-time attacks, mass arrests, use of such weaponry as pepper spray, sound cannons, tear gas, clubs and in some cases “non-lethal” projectiles like bean bags and rubber bullets, the removal and even arrest of reporters and camera-persons, and the justifications offered by municipal officials, who all cited “health” and “safety” concerns, all pointed to central direction and guidance.
The police assault on Zuccotti Park led to the Occupation Movement's biggest rally yet on Nov. 17The police assault on Zuccotti Park led to the Occupation Movement's biggest rally yet on Nov. 17

As we reported, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan admitted publicly in an interview on a San Francisco radio program earlier this week that prior to her first order to police to clear Oscar Grant Plaza of occupiers on Oct. 25, she had participated in a “conference call” with 17 other urban mayors to discuss strategy for dealing with the movement. At the time of that call, her mayor’s office legal advisor, who subsequently resigned over the harsh police tactics used against demonstrators, says Quan was, significantly, in Washington, DC.

The NLG says the Occupy Movement, which is now in over 170 cities around the U.S., “has been confronted by a nearly simultaneous effort by local governments and local police agencies to evict and break up encampments in cities and towns throughout the country.”

Veheyden-Hilliard says, “The severe crackdown on the occupation movement appears to be part of a national strategy,” which she said is designed to “crush the movement,” an action she describes as “supremely political.”

She adds, “The Occupy demonstrations are not criminal activities and police should not be treating them as such.”

The police conducting these coordinated raids look more like Imperial Storm Troopers than cops in their riot gear get-ups. The attacks show how the nation’s local police are becoming more of a national paramilitary force, curiously akin to the widely despised and feared Armed Police or Wu Jing who do the heavy riot-control and repression duty in China. Equipped with federally-supplied body armor and military-style weapons like stun grenades, sound canons and of course assault rifles, domestic US police forces responding to even garden variety, peaceful protest actions often look more like an occupying army than police. Meanwhile their actions have even been condemned by the Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans who are increasingly coming to and supporting the occupation movement. These vets say the police are employing tactics that they themselves were not even permitted to use in dealing with unrest in occupied or war-torn lands.

The Guild and other observers strongly suspect that the 72 so-called Fusion Centers created buy the Homeland Security Department around the country, and the many Joint Terror Task Forces operated by the FBI in conjunction with local police in many cities, are serving as coordination points for the increasingly systematic attacks on the Occupy Movement.

It will be instructive to see how the Obama administration and the targeted agencies respond to the Guild’s FOIA requests, and even more interesting to see what kinds of documents–if any–are forthcoming.

“We’re calling for expedited processing, because this is an urgent effort, and if we don’t get that, we can go to court over that issue,” says Verheyden-Hilliard. “Government delays in responding defeat the purpose of an open government law, with people in the streets and under attack by police now.” Normally, she says, government agencies have 20 days to respond to a FOIA request, but with an expedited request the agencies should have to respond even faster.

National Security and privacy are the only grounds for federal agencies to withhold information sought in a FOIA request, and clearly there is no national security issue involved in this protest movement, at least not in a strictly legal sense of the term. The Occupy Movement is protesting economic inequality, and the political corruption that allows the wealthiest people who run the nation’s biggest banks and companies to run the country in their own interest and to run rough-shod over the broader public interest. Of course, from the perspective of the ruling elite, and from the perspective of their political lackeys in the White House and Congress, any protest movement calling for a reordering of the political system to make it more responsive to the public interest would be seen as a national security threat.

There are other avenues for learning about any federal role in the crackdowns on the Occupy Movement. In Sacramento, where police arrested dozens of local occupation activists, lawyers for the movement have included in their discovery motion information about any contacts the city or the city’s police have had with other organizations or authorities. This is an approach that should be taken by lawyers in all jurisdictions where occupation actions are attacked by police. The information derived from these legal actions could help to keep federal authorities honest in their responses to the NLG FOIA filings.

Meanwhile, the Occupy Movement is continuing to grow.

Ousted from their base in Zuccotti Park, where a New York state court judge has ruled that they can stay, but cannot sleep or bring in sleeping gear or protection from the weather, movement activists are switching to a decentralized strategy. Some 30,000 people rallied around New York City on Thursday (the two-month anniversary of the start of the Zuccotti occupation), to protest the police action two days earlier. Some hardy souls still keep Zuccotti occupied round the clock, and a General Assembly has been held there several times despite police efforts to limit access. Rallies in support of and solidarity with the New York Occupy Movement were held simultaneously in 30 other cities yesterday.

Kenny Clark, 32, dressed in military fatigues he said dated from his Army service (he was stationed in Korea) stood in Zuccotti Park in the pouring rain on Wednesday, more than a day after police had cleared away the tarps, the 5500-book library, and the free kitchen, and said, with a determined smile, “We’re not going away!” A meat counter worker at A&P, where he has worked for 20 years, Clark said he and his co-workers were being asked to take a 20-percent pay cut by the firm, which is using a bankruptcy filing to try and break out of its union contracts. “We’ll vote down their offer, and then we’ll strike, and then they’ll probably fire our asses,” he laughed, “but with help from all these occupiers, we’ll be marching in front of their stores and organizing a boycott like they’ve never seen! Nobody’s going to shop there!”

Clark noted that the Occupy Movement is developing plans for a national occupation of the National Mall, the big park that runs between the Capitol and the Lincoln Monument that has been the scene of many historic rallies and occupations in decades past. A national General Assembly is being planned for April 1, which will focus on ” the failure of the Democrats and Republicans in Congress to represent the views of the majority of people, the Supreme Court for allowing the Constitution to be perverted and for ignoring the rule of law and the Chamber of Commerce and lobbyists on K St for dominating the political process in favor of the 1% at the expense of the 99%.”

This thing ain’t over. It’s just getting going.