Mayor Thomas Menino
Dear Mayor Menino:
Allow me a few observations following your ordering of last night’s daring nighttime raid on the Greenway.
I daresay that more crimes were committed in each of many, a great many, of your city blocks in the half hour during which your forces attacked the camp than were perpetrated by Occupy Boston in all the weeks they’ve been present. Serious crimes, Mr. Mayor. Yet you saw fit to call in some eighteen vans and hundreds of officers to disperse a crowd of passionate activists because you felt that there was some threat to … flowerbeds. Flowerbeds? Beatdowns and a hundred arrests, the ensuing expense of arraignments and the lawsuits that will certainly follow, and most of all jeapordizing the safety of both the citizens and the officers present because you feared for the security of a few gardenias? There were no drugs on site, no alcohol, and no weapons—in fact, the “occupation” zone may well be the only spot in Boston about which that claim can be made! And yet, to your mind, THIS was the most vexing criminal problem in your city last night?
Nor were the demonstrators ever at risk previously. I’ve heard no accounts of any of them suffering any violence—not from those who roam the streets of Boston at night, nor from rival political groups, nor from each other. As it turned out, the only violence they had to fear was from … those assigned with the task of protecting the peace. I watched your attack live. The assemblage of forces and vehicles seemed appropriate for taking out a determined terrorist cell or well-armed drug cadre. We’ve all seen the photos since: you ordered those forces in, armed with staves, against aging veterans and idealistic young girls. Had a local gang attacked that wholly peaceful crowd, the city would have been shocked, and the perpetrators would be facing assault and battery charges. Have you, sir, no shame?
As for the Greenway, I’m not sure how much traffic that oddly-positioned island even gets. I can think of no better use for it than a forum for the kinds of politics these folks were practicing. No doubt some devotees of gardening are relieved your armies liberated what flora would have been fine in any case—but are any of them enjoying the space today? Unlikely; you’ve surrounded it with metal barricades. You may recall the old line about “destroying a village in order to save it?”
So what, exactly, did you accomplish?
You’ve besmirched the reputation of both your city and the Commonwealth and its proud tradition of dissent. If you want to play General Gage to the demonstrators’ Sons of LIberty, that’s your prerogative, though you may wish to refresh yourself on how that played out. But I speak here for the many who feel downright ashamed.
You have discredited your police force, many of whom I suspect were embarrassed to be attacking combat veterans and young girls at two in the morning. I’ve mentioned, often, how sensible the BPD has always been when it came to handling protests, including non-violent civil disobedience. No more. You ruined something very valuable there, Mr. Mayor.
You have seriously discomfited your political party. There’s already enough tension between a clearly burgeoning “Occupation” movement and a Democratic Party that ignores its message at its peril. You have, unfortunately, gone way beyond simply ignoring it. There’s a lot more at risk than your petunias.
You discredited yourself in attributing the expansion of the camp to out- of-town troublemakers. I don’t know that I’ve ever witnessed a similar event where the mayor in question didn’t fall back on that hackneyed line. But we’ve also heard it, and recently, from Mubarak, from Quaddafi, from Ahmadinejad. Dissing your constituents is bad politics.
You’ve played directly into the hands of those who claim we can’t trust establishment politicians, and those who declare that our constabulary is simply there to protect the powerful. That’s a tragic mistake, and a betrayal of those of us who’ve tried to make the case that you can work within the system.
And worst of all, you’ve delivered a slap in the face to the best and the brightest among a rising generation, the very people taking the most active interest in the state of our nation and its future. When I quote Thoreau and teach my own children the value of dissidence, shall I point to the Greenway as a cautionary tale—“it’s okay to stay within the protest pens; just, please don’t eat the daisies?”
In your statement this morning, you added insult to injury in announcing that this was only the beginning—that you would be evicting those citizens of yours who have been encamped on Dewey Square. To which I can only say: good luck with that. I was part of the massive peaceful demonstration in Boston yesterday—you know, the one that avoided what could have been a very unpleasant confrontation with the police at the North Washington St. Bridge, when we peaceably dispersed instead? –but I tell you right now, I will be in Dewey Square locking arms with my fellow citizens on whatever night you launch your next attack. And I won’t come alone. And neither will the thousands of others who had their eyes opened last night.
That’s not my idea of a good time. I’d prefer to make my points peaceably. And I will be peaceful—but I will not disperse upon your orders because, quite frankly, I do not believe that you are speaking on behalf of nor in the best interests of the people of Boston in violently attacking peaceful protesters.
You made a mistake. But you perhaps partially redeem yourself. Visit Dewey Square and announce that you will NOT shut down the camp. Check out the overcrowded conditions there and negotiate a settlement on the Greenway.
Because otherwise, things are likely to get worse before they get any better. Occupy Boston (together with the dozens, or hundreds, of other Occupations) doesn’t want that. I’m sure your officers don’t want that. I know the Democratic Party doesn’t want that. I’m guessing City Council doesn’t, either.
That pretty much leaves … well, you.
Think about it.