My impression from reading the newspapers today reporting on the efforts of Occupy Wall Street, as well as seeing a number of television newscasts last night depicting the activities of those protesters involved in seeking to shut down Wall Street, the adjacent subways and the Brooklyn Bridge, I’ve concluded the NYPD acted superbly and made the people of the City of New York feel proud of their professionalism under great provocation.
The news reports of the physical attacks upon police officers with solid objects and unidentified liquids by some of the protesters were horrifying. Imagine a police officer being splashed with a liquid which might be acid or some other disfiguring substance and not responding with anger and excessive force. They showed their professionalism.
One particularly painful scene was that of a group of protesters yelling at children on their way to school. The boys and girls appeared to be six to eight years of age. The protesters appeared to be shouting at the students and frightening them. My memory harkened back to the 1960s when black children seeking to integrate a public school under court orders and were hooted at and frightened by white protesters. It was an awful feeling of déjà vu.
The public owes an enormous debt to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly for their leadership at this difficult moment in the City’s history. Of course, the greatest thanks go to the hundreds of police officers who prevented the shutdown of any part of the City and did it professionally, and I believe, carefully observing the rights of protesters exercising their First Amendment rights. Regrettably, among those engaged in protests over the last two months against greed in our country and Wall Street excesses, there were those present for different reasons, including disruption, anarchy and criminality.
Those who engaged in non-violent civil disobedience and were arrested should understand that violating the law means they are subject to an appropriate penalty, usually involving a civil fine, and should not protest the punishment that goes with seeking to change the minds of the public by appealing to conscience.
Those who engaged in violence of any kind should be prosecuted criminally. If their guilt is established at trial, in my opinion, they should suffer a penalty of jail or prison, depending on the gravity of the crime. Under no circumstances, in my opinion, should the District Attorney grant amnesty, simply because of the numbers involved. Last night, about 250 people were arrested for alleged illegal activity in the Occupy Wall Street protest events.
Mayor Bloomberg should be congratulated and praised by every New Yorker for exercising a steady hand in his leadership of the City in dealing with the rights of all concerned involved in Occupy Wall Street. The actions of the Mayor and the police officers of the NYPD should be seen as a model for other cities similarly situated.
The Honorable Edward Irving Koch served New York City as its105th Mayor from 1978 to 1989.