Now They Tell Us: WashPost Documents Threats, Violent Incidents From Occupy D.C. Camp

When the Occupy movement was going strong, the Washington Post devoted generally positive coverage to the Occupy D.C. camp, complete with a front-page puff piece on love (lust?) at Occupy D.C., a Style section puff piece on Occupy propaganda posters, and an "Occupied" Style section front pager gushing about the nascent hippie village-- complete with kitchen and library -- at the McPherson Square squatters camp.

But now the Post is finally getting around to detailing the violent tendencies of the movement, including the fact that an article circulating at an Arizona camp entitled "When Should You Shoot a Cop?" caused a homeland security bulletin to alert local authorities of potential violence in early November of last year.

Tim Craig's 29-paragraph story graced the front page of today's Metro page, but was placed below-the-fold and bore a bland headline: "Protesters, police have had tense relations." In other news, the Pope is Catholic, water's wet, and the sun rises every morning in the east:

As tents and Occupy D.C. protesters filled two federal parks in the District in early November, a homeland security “bulletin” was sent to dozens of local law-enforcement officials.

Authorities in Arizona had discovered an article titled “When Should You Shoot A Cop” at an Occupy Phoenix encampment, the notice warned.

U.S. Park Police Capt. Kathleen Harasek, commander of D.C.'s Central District, wrote to senior agency officials: “We need to remember that just because we didn’t find the same article here, doesn’t mean the sentiment doesn’t exist among our group.”

The e-mail, revealed in documents obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act, sparked concern about the possibility of a kind of violence that never materialized. There were no reported shootings aimed at police at an Occupy protest locally or nationally, and the vast majority of them remained peaceful.

But the message set the stage for the unpredictable and tense relationship that has existed between some protesters and police in the District throughout the nearly five-month protest.

An examination of the local police response to the movement offers a glimpse at the challenges facing officers as they monitor a round-the-clock protest in an electronic age that allows the world to watch in real time via the Internet.

As police in other cities moved in quickly to shut down camps in the early weeks of the Occupy Wall Street movement, officers clashed with protesters in some well-publicized episodes of violence. But for months, the Park Police here, aware of the international spotlight, largely held back. There were some heated exchanges as small bands of troublemakers fed off the hostility between protesters and police elsewhere.

Deeper in the article, Craig noted a few violent incidents that have transpired in the past few months, incidents which didn't merit much coverage from the paper in the preceding months (emphasis mine):

On Dec. 22, a Park Police officer was kicked in the groin and another in the chest when they attempted to make an arrest in McPherson Square, according to court documents.

Three weeks later, when Park Police moved to enforce the no-camping ban at McPherson Square, an officer was taken to the hospital with minor injuries, after a suspect threw a “3 to 4 foot” bamboo stick at him, according to police reports.

The suspect, Nathan J. Gorecki, has been charged with assaulting an officer. He denies the charge. Gorecki said police broke his elbow, ribs and fractured his skull when they tackled him during the arrest, but Park Police said they were unable to confirm the extent of his injuries.

On the same day, another officer received “significant bodily injuries” after Jeremiah DeSousa allegedly threw a bottle at him. DeSousa was charged with assaulting a police officer. He also denies the charges, according to court documents.

Park Service e-mails and documents show that on Oct. 19, three weeks after the first protest began, officials were worried about the potential for violence. Leaders of the Downtown Business Improvement District wrote Park Service officials to warn that protesters were “stacking lumber” possibly to use as “weapons against law enforcement,” a concern that turned out to be unfounded.

A month later senior Park Service also appeared to be extra cautious when they asked District Police not to go into McPherson Square one night because the police presence might “escalate the tenuous relationship” between the two sides, according to e-mails.

Though some of the tension has subsided, police are concerned that a new wave of protesters from other states could again test no-camping rules in downtown parks.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.