OPEN LETER TO Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Council Member Margaret Chin.
by Peter Marcuse
You complain(1) about the Occupy Wall Street protest movement at Liberty Park as raising “quality of life issues” for adjacent residents and small businesses, while expressing sympathy for the Protest movement. . Others have made similar and even broader complaints.(2) The concern seems to be about: first, the presence of undesirables attracted to the Park by the occupation, including criminal elements, drug dealers, drug users, and the homeless; second, the behaviour of some , presumably protestors, in urinating or defecating on nearby public sidewalks. And you formulate such issues as “quality-of-life” issues and ask the city to take a zero-tolerance position as to certain of these causes of complaint, presumably by means of police enforcement.. Further, the City, perhaps in response to similar concerns, has procured the removal of electric generators and electronic equipment, and heating sources from the site, despite an imminent cold wave threatening the health and well-being of the occupantss.(3)
Your concerns are understandable, but the solution is misplaced. The City should take an affirmative attitude to the efforts of the protestors to make their voices heard on matters of grave public concern, and to do so in a peaceful and democratic manner. It should facilitate that effort, not restrict it, and it should deal with the substance of the concerns of the protestors, not ignore them or denigrate them.(4) It is not appropriate for a mayor with an estimated net worth of $19.5 billion to talk of those protesting unemployment, lack of health care, home foreclosures, as just “yelling and screaming” and telling them they ought to create the jobs that we are lacking.”(5)
If any group has interfered with the quality of life of the city’s residents, it is much more the speculators of Wall Street than the occupants of Liberty Park. The pressure should be on the mayor to address the conduct of Wall Street, not its critics.
If homeless individuals are attracted to the protest site at the park, it is a sad commentary on the programs the City has developed to meet its state constitutional obligation to care for the health and welfare of its residents. 40,201 homeless were in the city’s shelter system October 31, 2011; last year the number simply living on the streets went up 34%.(6) That’s were attention needs to be focused.
If addicts seek cover at the park, it is a commentary on the failure of the City to deal with drug addiction; if some mentally ill participate in the protests, their illness is not the protestors’ fault, but that of a failing mental health care system.
If the City is concerned about the growing homeless population, it would be better called on to develop an effective programs meeting the needs of the homeless, rather than condemning private volunteers whose respectful treatment of those homeless is experienced by the homeless as a striking contrast to the attitudes they encounter in the city’s inadequate shelter system and housing programs. The volunteers at the park who do their best to cope with the problems of such visitors should rather be assisted thanked for their services by the city , rather than condemned for their humane results.
If criminal conduct takes place within the Park, it is the responsibility of the city’s official criminal justice system to deal with it, when complaints are made and assistance asked. The first line of defense should of course be the effort to resolve untoward conduct on a common sense, person to person basis, and a cooperative police attitude towards such efforts should be encouraged. If official intervention is requested, it should be provided courteously and professionally, as New York City’s police motto provides. Such requested official intervention will be substantially more effective if the relationships between the police and the residents and possible victims are positive and mutually respectful, rather than hostile and alienated, as is unfortunately often the case.
If the City is concerned about the quality of life in the city, and protecting the health and welfare of its residents, it would be better called on to deal with the activities taking place on Wall Street rather than putting road-blocks in the way of those protesting Wall Street’s activities. A progressive income tax on the 1%, a progressive housing policy, adequate social services, providing help for them to keep warm, take care of bodily function, eat and sleep and discuss and, yes, protest, would be in order. The City should be concerned with dealing with the conduct of those who create the problems from which so many of the city’s residents suffer, rather than pushing punitive measures aimed at their victims.
And perhaps you might recommend to the Mayor that he educate himself to what the occupation is about, what moves the occupiers, who they are.. His comments suggest a very deep misapprehension of the realities that others face, so different from his own. It was appropriately headlined in the New York Times as : “Glded Blinders to the Reality of a Collapse,”(7) and included quoted comments from him such as:
“It was not the banks hat created the mortgage crisis. It was, plain and simple, Congaress, who forced everbody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp.” Or his suggestion that the fault-finders should give blaming banks a rest: “It’s fun and it’s cathartic. I don’t know, it’s entertaining to go and blame people.” His proposal for a solution: the Occupy Wall Street Protestors should make a difference by opening a business.
Peter Marcuse is Professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University in New York. Visit his blog here: http://pmarcuse.wordpress.com
- For full text of letter to which this responds, see http://www.capitaltonight.com/category/michael-bloomberg/ ↩
- http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2011/10/20/lower-manhattan-residents-voice-displeasure-with-wall-street-protesters-at-meeting/ ↩
- http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/28/fire-inspectors-remove-generators-and-gasoline-at-zuccotti-park/ ↩
- Is comments on the occupation have been called a “Marie Antoinette” attitude, condescending, displaying an “aristocratic superiority” http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/mike-bloombergs-marie-antoinette-moment-20111103#ixzz1cl4VA6se. Impugning the motives of the protestors “The protests that are trying to destroy the jobs of working people in this city aren’t productive” is hardly a constructive approach to dealing with their concerns. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1011/65561.html#ixzz1dL4l05pH ↩
- http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/04/nyregion/for-bloomberg-wall-street-protest-poses-a-challenge.html?pagewanted=all ↩
- http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/pages/basic-facts; http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/20/nyregion/20homeless.html?ref=homelesspersons ↩
- News Analysis, November 8, 1011, p. A18 ↩