Dave Weigel notes that the public image of the Occupy movement is tarnished and the Tea Party is now more popular. Also, in a nationwide coordinated effort, the Occupy encampents in 18 cities across the US were cleared out this Monday, in some cases probably illegally. Now, the polling took place before the police action. Nevertheless, these actions follow other instances of police clashing with the Occupy movement, in Oakland and New York. My strongly held suspicion is that it is these clashes with the police that are dipping the popularity of Occupy. A basic problem is this: people generally like the police. That is so even though the police are probably the profession one is most likely to have a personal grudge against. So, even if the news about Occupy is about police brutality, it turns out in the police’s favour. Though people distrust individual lawmakers, they have enough confidence in the general system (America!) and in the police that any time the police is brought in, the intuition is that it must be somehow justified, and any time there is a conflict with the police on one side, it is that side that is given the benefit of the doubt. The thing is, unless the police overstep their jurisdiction, there is unlikely to be conflict or news involving the Occupy movement. Thus, there is a (okay, very hazy and generalised, but still extant) incentive for the police and especially those in charge of police deployment to bend the rules. My prediction is that as a result of the crackdown, the popularity of the Occupy movement drops further. So, while some think it’s good for the movement that the clashes with police raise Occupy’s visibility and keep it in the news whereas it could otherwise have just drifted away, I’m not sure about that.
A corollary is that if there is an incentive for police to abuse their power, this is not good, regardless of what you personally think of the Occupy-ers. No matter the goals – it is here, and not in marginal tax rates, that the spectre of state power that isn’t effectively limited becomes frightening. So, the Tea Party must be up in arms about the evictions, right? Umm… Well, what are the honest citizens waiting for? Are they picking a date? At least I’m going to do my part to spread anti-police paranoia with a (admittedly police-unrelated) video by Seattle’s very own Don’t Talk To The Cops!