Police departments across the country are coming under criticism for using excessive force against Occupy Wall Street protesters during the past two months. In Seattle, Mayor Mike McGinn apologized Wednesday, hours after an 84-year-old retired Seattle school teacher named Dorli Rainey was pepper-sprayed in the face during a protest. Photographs of her moments after she was pepper-sprayed went viral, showing the chemical irritant and liquid used to treat it dripping from her chin. According to Occupy Seattle organizers, a priest and a pregnant teenager were also pepper-sprayed Tuesday night. Dorli Rainey joins us from Seattle. "My problem is not only with police brutality," Rainey says. "It’s with the progressively getting worse attitude of the police." [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Police departments across the country are coming under criticism for using excessive force against Occupy Wall Street protesters over the past two months. In Seattle, Mayor Mike McGinn apologized Wednesday hours after an 84-year-old retired Seattle school teacher named Dorli Rainey was pepper-sprayed in the face during a protest. Photographs of the woman moments after she was pepper-sprayed went viral. One photograph shows the chemical irritant and liquid used to treat it dripping from her chin. According to Occupy Seattle organizers, a priest and a pregnant teenager were also pepper-sprayed that Tuesday night. Seattle police spokesman Jeff Kappel defended the use pepper spray, saying it is, quote, "not age specific. No more dangerous to someone who is 10 or someone who is 80."
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about what happened, Dorli Rainey is joining us right now from Seattle. She is 84 years old, a longtime Seattle resident and community activist. Dorli was born in Austria, moved to the United States in 1956, after working as a technical translator in the U.S. Army in Europe. She briefly campaigned to run for mayor in Seattle in 2009.
Dorli Rainey, welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us what happened to you, why you were out in the streets, and how you ended up being pepper-sprayed in the face?
DORLI RAINEY: Good morning. Thank you for having me on.
I am a member of Occupy Seattle. I spent five days in D.C. with the October 2011 group, which was a wonderful thing to go to, and I hope to go to that group again in March.
I got pepper-sprayed because we were penned in by the motor—by the bicycle groups, until there was no way out. And the minute the people had us penned so tightly that we could barely move, they started letting loose with the pepper spray. And it was not just a few people that were targeted. When you look at the pictures, you will see that the pepper spray fog and the stream of pepper spray is all over.
My problem is not only with police brutality, it is with the progressive getting worse attitude of the police. I was tear-gassed—and thank you, Norm Stamper—in Seattle when the WTO was there in Seattle. And I also was in a workshop with Arundhati Roy when she was in Seattle for the WTO. These locations, while they were pretty violent outside, were not nearly as bad as what we see now. It is getting progressively worse. Our freedoms are getting curtailed. And I just listened to the press being banned at Wall Street—this in a country where we export our sort of democracy all over the world at gunpoint.
And what we have to do is change the mindset of people that guns will not solve our crisis. The President going to Australia to introduce troops into Australia, I fear for Australians, because, sooner or later, they will be occupied like our troops are occupying practically half of the world. Once the troops get there, there’s no getting them out.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get your comment, Dorli, on the Seattle mayor, Mike McGinn, apologizing Wednesday to protesters who were pepper-sprayed Tuesday night. He wrote in a statement, "Last night, the police used pepper spray in two separate incidents, and many are now questioning whether the police use of force was appropriate to the circumstances. I have seen video and written descriptions of the incidents. To those engaged in peaceful protest, I am sorry that you were pepper sprayed." Mayor McGinn also wrote that he spoke to you, Dorli Rainey, and asked how you’re doing. Can you describe that conversation and what you told Mayor McGinn?
DORLI RAINEY: We spoke very briefly, and I told him that he is not in charge of what is going on, that our politicians really have lost control, and this sort of brutality is now endemic all over the United States and is being controlled by Homeland Security, by the FBI, and by the military against the war on terrorism. And it has nothing to do any longer with what individual mayors may want or not want to do.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, a number of questions have been raised about how much cities across the country have coordinated their actions against Occupy Wall Street. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan recently admitted in an interview with the BBC that she and leaders participated in a conference call.
MAYOR JEAN QUAN: I was recently on a conference call of 18 cities across the country who had the same situation, where what had started as a political movement and a political encampment ended up being an encampment that was no longer in control of the people who started them. And what I think you’re starting to see is that the Occupy movement is looking for more stability. I spent a lot of last week talking to peaceful demonstrators, ones who wanted to separate themselves in my city away from the anarchist groups who had been looking for a confrontation with the police.
AMY GOODMAN: The conference calls were organized by the Police Executive Research Forum, a national police group. For a discussion on policing and the Occupy Wall Street movement around the country, we’re joined by two people. Chuck Wexler is the director of the Police Executive Research Forum. And Norm Stamper is with us, the former police chief of Seattle, who recently wrote an article for The Nation magazine, titled "Paramilitary Policing from Seattle to Occupy Wall Street."
I want to start with Norm Stamper, because you just may have heard Dorli say, "Thank you, Norm Stamper," as she got pepper-sprayed, today, remembering what it was like in 1999, as well, at the Battle of Seattle, at the time when you were presiding over the police actions. Your thoughts today?
NORM STAMPER: Well, we made huge mistakes back in 1999, and I’m afraid they’re being repeated today across the country, in Seattle, in Oakland, and in all other cities where there have been confrontations between the police and members of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Norm Stamper, in your article you mention that you think that there are institutional problems, structural problems in policing, that no matter who the political leaders are or what the top brass are, that these problems continue to crop up and appear to be getting worse.
NORM STAMPER: I certainly do believe that. I think the drug war, which has put police officers against young people and poor people and people of color, the war on terrorism, the domestic dimensions of that war, have all served to increase the militarization of America’s police forces. And this is particularly tragic because, prior to these developments, we were on a path to create what I would call authentic partnerships with the community. That means no more unilateral decision making. It means, for example, today, police officers and Occupy movement leaders understanding the diffusion of that leadership, getting together and carving out rules of engagement, if you will, that will help protect public safety, public health, and also assure civil liberties, human rights and some degree of social justice.
AMY GOODMAN: As I said, we’re also joined on the phone by Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum that coordinated the conference call with mayors and police officials around the country. Can you talk about what’s happening today—the Occupy Oakland, the massive police response, the kind of police response we saw in Seattle with the pepper-spraying of not only Dorli Rainey, but many other people directly in the face—the conversation that took place, and why you coordinated this call, Chuck?
CHUCK WEXLER: Well, yeah. Good morning.
But first of all, a correction: we did not coordinate the call with the mayors. It was simply with police chiefs. And it originated from Boston and Portland. The police chiefs in those cities asked to just compare notes.
You know, I think, you know, this movement has evolved since it started. It was very—you know, relatively peaceful. And quite frankly, I think a lot of the police officers had a lot in common with, you know, the demonstrators, in terms of the concerns about the economy and working-class people and so forth. But I think, you know, over time, in some cities, the nature of the demonstration has changed. But it’s hard to talk about it, you know, all over the United States, because I think you probably have—you know, it’s very idiosyncratic depending upon the city, depending upon the nature of who’s involved. But in some cities, it has—that the hand of the police has been forced by, you know, either violence or the changing nature of what’s been happening on the ground.
I’m not—you know, I don’t have the details about Oakland and Seattle and so forth. I can just tell you—and I know Norm Stamper would agree, at least insofar as we learned a lot from what happened in Seattle, when he was chief up there, about handling demonstrators. And I think the police are far more careful about not wanting to be drawn into something that really has nothing to do with them, and really trying as much as they can to exercise restraint, to use intermediaries, to reach out to the leaders of these Occupy movements. The challenge is, there aren’t really any leaders, or if there are leaders, they don’t want to be leaders. So it’s difficult to know who’s responsible, who’s in charge. But I think, you know, the police today are far more careful about exercising restraint—I mean, by and large. I mean, you have 17,000 police agencies in the country, so, you know, it’s hard to make generalizations. But I do think that—you know, when the first Occupy Wall Street movement started, and police saw what happened on the bridge and so forth, and the police sort of getting drawn into that, there’s been really a reluctance on the part of the police, you know, to want to move, unless absolutely necessary. And so, I think the political structure within these cities has played a big role in determining what kind of action the police are going to take.
AMY GOODMAN: Norm Stamper, your response?
NORM STAMPER: Well, I have great respect for Chuck, and I do believe that since 1999 and the Battle in Seattle there have been many changes. My concern is, many of those changes have been for the worse. The officers, for example, in Oakland were dressed as my police officers were in Seattle, which is, in effect, for full—in full battle gear. We were using military tactics. I authorized the use of chemical agents on nonviolent offenders. I thought I had good justification at that time. I did not. The police officer in me was thinking about emergency vehicles, fire trucks, aid cars being able to get through a key intersection. The police chief in me should have said, "This is wrong," and vetoed that decision. I will regret that decision for the rest of my life. We took a military response to a situation that was fundamentally nonviolent, in which Americans were expressing their views and their values, and used tear gas on them. And that was just plain wrong.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Chuck Wexler, I’d like to ask you about that, not only about this issue of the increased militarization, also that there have been other cities where law enforcement has taken a very different approach. In Philadelphia and Albany, the district attorney is refusing to—declining to prosecute cases of arrests of people who are being arrested for being in a park. But also, the way that the—some of the police forces are dealing with the press, and of the—because the press are supposed to be there to be able to be the eyes and ears of the public in these events, but increasingly you’re getting reporters arrested, removed, not allowed to be at the biggest flash points or to be able to take photos or to take camera shots of them.
CHUCK WEXLER: Yeah. No, I mean, you know, it’s—the police response is going to vary from city to city. But let me just kind of back up a little bit and respond to what Norm said. You know, we—you know, I have a lot of respect for Norm Stamper, too. We learned a lot. He’s very forthcoming with what went right and what went wrong with the Battle for Seattle, if you will. But, you know, in fairness, you know, you were faced, Norm, in a very difficult situation, and in fact, there really hadn’t been many demonstrations up 'til Seattle. I mean, prior to the Vietnam era, there was a big lag time. But what was—what does happen in some of these events is you can have 90 percent of the people are there peacefully, and you have this small contingent—and I think, Norm, what you had in Seattle is you had this group of anarchists that somehow was able to cause such disturbances that it forced a reaction, that perhaps was an overreaction, but I don't think the police were prepared for it. And today, you know, the police struggle between these two extremes, between people who go to exercise their First Amendment rights and then people who are there to cause, you know, damage and destruction.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Norm Stamper, respond to that issue, why you still think you were wrong, that you’re taking issue with Chuck Wexler here, that given the situation in 1999 you now say you did the absolutely wrong thing.
NORM STAMPER: Well, for five years after I retired, I remember being on book tour and having people come up to me and say, "I was on the streets, and I’ve got to tell you, I was shocked at the behavior of the police." And I asked them about what was particularly shocking about the behavior, and it all came back to me. It came back to my authorization of the use of chemical agents, a euphemism for tear gas or pepper spray, and the effect that that had from that moment on and throughout the week.
There is no question about what anarchists, by definition, or for that matter, even recreational rioters, who are simply sitting in a bar and see the action and get attracted to the downtown area—we had some of that—can help distract attention away from the cause itself and create major public safety issues for the police. Here’s my point: if the police and the community in a democratic society are really working hard—and it is hard work—to forge authentic partnerships rather than this unilateral, paramilitary response to these demonstrations, that the relationship itself serves as a shock absorber. Picture police officers helping to protect the demonstrators. Picture demonstrators saying, "We see people on the fringes, for example, who are essentially undemocratic in their tactics. And so, we need to work together to resolve that issue." These resolutions are clearly not easy. One of the things that complicates the picture enormously is when a woman like Ms. Rainey is pepper-sprayed. When innocent people who are there to protest what I consider to be very legitimate grievances against corporate America, against a government that has, in many respects, been bought off by corporations, the police have a responsibility to be neutral. It should be apparent that I’m not neutral, but I’m no longer a cop. And police officers on the streets really do need to be neutral referees, and they need the help of their civilian, if I may use that term, partners.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of neutral referees, I wanted to bring a judge into this discussion, retired New York Supreme Court Judge Karen Smith, who worked as a legal observer early Tuesday morning here in New York. I saw her right on the corner of Wall Street shortly after police raided the Occupy Wall Street encampment. Judge Smith, what did you see?
JUDGE KAREN SMITH: Well, I arrived about 1:30, 1:40 in the morning, got out and walked to Dey and Broadway. And the police were in full riot gear. I mean, it was a paramilitary operation if there ever was one, I mean, which sets off—here it is, 1:30 in the morning, what we call a stealth eviction, 1:30 in the morning, and they were just lined up two blocks from—on either side from the park, so that nobody could get near, this solid wall of police.
I was wearing—and I brought this—a hat, which says the "National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer." And as you can see, in color, it’s quite bright. And at night—
AMY GOODMAN: It’s fluorescent green.
JUDGE KAREN SMITH: It’s fluorescent green. And then I was wearing it, and I had a pad and a pen, and I was there to take down the names of people who were arrested so we could follow them through the system and just observe what was going on. And as I’m standing there, some African-American woman goes up to a police officer and says, "I need to get in. My daughter’s there. I want to know if she’s OK." And he said, "Move on, lady." And he kept pushing—they kept pushing with their sticks, pushing back. And she said—and she was crying. And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he throws her to the ground and starts hitting her in the head. And I walk over, and I say, "Look, cuff her if she’s done something, but you don’t need to do that." And he said, "Lady, do you want to get arrested?" And I said, "Do you see my hat? I’m here as a legal observer." He said, "You want to get arrested?" And he pushed me up against the wall.
And, you know, it was late at night. There was a lot going on. People were—all of a sudden, there was like a cordon of police pushing everybody into Dey Street between Broadway and Church. And it seemed like they were setting everybody up to get arrested. And then they started—some people broke away, some of the police, and started running after people. I moved away and then decided that I needed to get on the other side. I received a call that there were things developing on Pine and Broadway, and so I moved all the way east to go around the police and then ended up on Pine and Broadway, which is really where I ran into you.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, of course, you had a personal interest, as well. Your son was also one of the participants in Occupy Wall Street.
JUDGE KAREN SMITH: Yes, my son was a—he’s a staff person for SEIU 1199. And they were there in support. They were not going to get arrested, but they wanted to show the demonstrators and the occupiers that—and they’ve been supportive all along as one of the unions. And he was there. And I was watching carefully to make sure that he did not get hurt, as well. I was very concerned.
At Pine and Broadway, it was sort of a standoff. People were—there was a lot of confusion. People didn’t know what was going on. There were some people that may have sat on some police cars just in comfort, but nobody was—I heard later on reports—talk about objectivity of the press—you know, that they were jumping up and down and they were taunting the police. The only time I ever saw on—when I first got there on Dey and Broadway, they were just saying, "Shame on you," you know, to the police, and—but that was it. And down on Pine and Broadway, at least until about 4:30 in the morning, I didn’t see any provocation whatsoever.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to lose the satellite for Dorli—for Dorli Rainey in Seattle. But I wanted to ask you, Dorli, what did it feel like to be pepper-sprayed in the face? This dramatic photograph of you being helped by two people right afterwards.
DORLI RAINEY: Well, first of all, it’s very painful. And when they say there are no after effects, I still have a pain in my lungs, and my voice is kind of raspy. I don’t know how long that will last. But the thing really is not about me getting pepper-sprayed. It is a much bigger issue than that, and I would like everybody to keep that in mind, that while we’re getting pepper-sprayed, other issues are not being heard. And that’s my problem. I feel issues become a major focus to the detriment of the real issues that cause this whole problem.