Naomi Wolf arrested at OWS event for violating terms of an imaginary law

Writer Naomi Wolf attended a HuffPo event in NYC where Governor Andrew Cuomo was expected to attend, and which had attracted a group of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators who wanted to address the governor. Seeing the demonstrators penned up far away from the area where it would be lawful to protest, Wolf asked the police to clarify what the demonstrators should be allowed to do. Once the police had clarified that it would be legal for demonstrators to picket out front of the event, providing they didn't impede pedestrian traffic, she led a group of protesters back to the sidewalk. A "white shirt" (senior NYPD officer) told her she was breaking the law in doing so, and when she asked him to clarify how this was so, he had her arrested. The NYPD continue to insist that the public sidewalk out front of the event was off-limits, but have not, to date, produced the alleged permit that established this.

Another scary outcome I discovered is that, when the protesters marched to the first precinct, the whole of Erickson Street was cordoned off – "frozen" they were told, "by Homeland Security". Obviously if DHS now has powers to simply take over a New York City street because of an arrest for peaceable conduct by a middle-aged writer in an evening gown, we have entered a stage of the closing of America, which is a serious departure from our days as a free republic in which municipalities are governed by police forces.

The police are now telling my supporters that the permit in question gave the event managers "control of the sidewalks". I have asked to see the permit but still haven't been provided with it – if such a category now exists, I have never heard of it; that, too, is a serious blow to an open civil society. What did I take away? Just that, unfortunately, my partner and I became exhibit A in a process that I have been warning Americans about since 2007: first they come for the "other" – the "terrorist", the brown person, the Muslim, the outsider; then they come for you – while you are standing on a sidewalk in evening dress, obeying the law.

(via JWZ)


  1. “You have the right to free
    Speech as long as you’re not
    Dumb enough to actually try it.”

    -The Clash, “Know your Rights”
    Yeah, it’s the United Police States of America now.

  2. i do not believe this is an out-of-the-ordinary protocol by cops during demonstrations.  you give conflicting advice to the protestors and then arrest them.  i believe something similar happened a few years ago in Providence during a protest.

  3. It’s all about control of the venue.  You will note that they cited Homeland Security. The suggestion of possible violent protesters is often used by politicians or powerful groups to avoid being exposed to protesters.

    What they are really afraid of is the message. What they say they are afraid of is violence. They use the fear of violence as the excuse.

    The people who fear the message of OWS are starting to raise the specter of violence for two reasons

    1) Discredit the movement.  Video of protesters cracking cop’s heads will discredit the movement- to that end they will plant agitators – as they already have (American Spectator at the Air and Space Museum protest where the Spectator agent provocateur bragged about infiltrating in order to discredit.)

    2) Excuse to crack heads to keep others away
    (of course the video of heads being cracked often backfires and makes the protesters cause sympathetic.)

    Here is something I would love to see.  The next time there is violence that is attributed to protesters at an event it would be great if there was an instant identification of the situation and players. And demand that the media update their stories with names and backgrounds before after they run their “protesters get violent” stories. We have the footage. We have the crowd source resources.

    It would be interesting to find out that the protester who attacked someone turned out to be a Blackwater security person hired by Big Money to incite others and discredit OWS.

  4. This is why protesters need to get up to speed with the law and not rely on the police to guide them. The police are not there to help you understand the law, and a solid grounding in what you can and cannot do will help immeasurably. At some point OWS is going to need to make some strategic decisions vis-a-vis law enforcement and they ought to make them thoughtfully, not based on what the police tell them.

    1. The police are not to be relied upon in circumstances such as these.  I guess they can’t have a lawyer around, can they?

  5. Thing about DHS is, they have pretty much absolute authority within their jurisdiction, which is something like 100 miles within any port or border of the US. New York City, therefore, is their jurisdiction, and they can do pretty much what they like. I always took a shining to the I-91 “show us your papers” stops in Vermont. Everyone be polite now…

    1. Is there anywhere in the US that isn’t within 100 miles of a border, a coastline or an international airport? (Some pretty small airports offer customs service and are therefore “international.”) Because that’s where Immigration and Customs Enforcement has carte blanche to conduct warrantless and suspicionless administrative searches.

      1. there are such places, but nobody lives there, nor would bother traveling there to protest the emptiness.

      1. tell that to the DHS thugs who set up traffic stops on the I-91 south of where it crosses the I-89 — they stop every. single. vehicle. Think they have “probable cause” for all of them?

          1. well, I mean having been stopped by them at one of their screenings where they were stopping all the cars and having had my citizenship inquired of and moved along, I feel fairly secure in my assertion that I’m not making this up.

          2. As I said, ACLU. Frankly I suspect that you are missing something legally significant. The point is, DHS absolutely does NOT have unfettered power.

          3. Well, my belief is that under the Patriot Act the border patrol (i.e. DHS) has been given leave to stop any and all vehicles within 100 miles of a border, in order to police the movements of non-citizens. The fact that it’s a bit absurd stopping them just within the 100-mile limit just adds absurdity to the mix. Now whether they could have searched my vehicle without due cause is another thing, but as Peter Watts proved, you don’t need to do much to be in the wrong with this particular division of Enforcement.

    2. They were pretty stupid checkpoints too.  Anyone white and looking like a “regular family” got the two finger wave-by to keep driving.  Anyone looking even remotely darker-skinned had to stop, roll down the window, answer questions, possibly get pulled over to be questioned further.

      Glad all that’s gone.  Security theater.

  6. If you are not doing what the cop wants you to do, you are breaking the law. “Failure to obey lawful orders of a law enforcement officer given in the performance of his duties.”

    If what the cop orders you to do is in conflict with a statute, you are breaking the law. The blackletter statute says that you are. “I was only following orders” is not a defence.

    If two cops order you to do different, incompatible things – you are breaking the law. Because the law says that you have to obey them both.

    You should have been smarter than to get yourself in such a situation in the first place. If you had been sufficiently respectful toward your betters, you wouldn’t be in that position.

    I refuse to state whether any portion of this post is ironic, on the grounds that either irony, or the lack thereof, may be incriminating.

    1. “Lawful order.”

      That means something. The underlying order has to be lawful. Otherwise there would never be a civil rights violation by the police because they *always* told you to do something.

      1.  I remember at the Seattle WTO protests in 1999 the police suddenly attacking everyone for no apparent reason. They claimed to have issued a “lawful order” commanding the public to leave the area, apparently they forgot to tell us about it. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, I’ve never felt safe around a cop since. 

        1. Sure. I was talking about scenarios where people ask police what is legal and then are arrested for following that advice. Protesters have to be beyond that.

          I also think that having a group of people who know the law well and are at the “sharp end” of the protests will have an impact on the police. Neither Bloomberg nor any other mayor wants police to be continually doing stupid/illegal things to people who know each violation of law. It is not enough to cry that once the police were mean to you. You need to get educated and hold their feet to the fire.

    2. “Failure to obey lawful orders of a law enforcement officer given in the performance of his duties.”

      Take note of the word ‘lawful’. The orders must be lawful.

  7. a process that I have been warning Americans about since 2007: first they come for the “other” – the “terrorist”, the brown person, the Muslim, the outsider; then they come for you – while you are standing on a sidewalk in evening dress, obeying the law

    There probably is a law against me standing on a sidewalk in an evening dress.  But the point’s still valid, even though the law is corrupt.

    1. No, you won’t. Revisionist history will be against the law. Only the terrorists try to tell us about freedoms that don’t exist.

    2. Hmm, that may be a problem. Their schools will have brain-washed them into reporting any suspicious or disloyal activity, which telling them about the old days would clearly violate.

  8. DHS hates freedom for Americans because if more Americans wake up they’ll realize how much money we waste on corrupt entities like the DHS.  They use fear to suck away our money and hide behind that same fear to get away with it.

  9. In the last instance, it’s a case of “you can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride”

    A police officer who, for whatever reason, doesn’t want you to do what you’re doing, can use a catch-all offense such as “disorderly conduct” or “obstruction”, assert that whatever you’re doing meets the criteria for that offense, and get you swept up and driven downtown with your wrists behind your back. You may subsequently ‘beat the rap’ by showing that the officer’s ‘interpretation’ of the law was incorrect, or that you didn’t do what s/he said you did, but you’ve still been put through the whole process of arrest and detention (‘the ride’). ‘The ride’, of course, has an important deterrent effect, and many people will be afraid to assert themselves precisely for that reason.

    Unless an officer really oversteps the mark and does something that exposes the department to major liabilities, it’s doubtful that they’ll face much in the way of internal disciplinary action for misusing the law. If the goal is to contain and discourage a demonstration, no one at the precinct is going to quibble too much if an individual officer bends the rules a bit to achieve that goal.

  10. I will be clicking the like button when I see news reports of how this turned violent.

    When the law no longer serves the people its time for the people to put the smack down on the law.

    1. Okay. You just take a seat over there and the next available DHS Party Van will be by shortly to help you out with that.

  11. We live in a country no longer represented by the people but by the interests of major corporations and the money they use through lobbying to pay off our elected officials. These politicians no longer voice the opinion of the voters who put them in office but instead speak for the special interests which pay them more and more money to turn a blind eye to the destruction of our environment and the extinction of the middle class. How long will the occupations have to last before a SINGLE government official asks what WE the PEOPLE want changed? Visit my artist’s blog at to see my art for the movement and also see videos of the protests and police brutality as well as get other sources for coverage of the movement.

    1. Even if you are incorrect on this point, the mere fact that public trust in their institutions has been and is being severely eroded is a telling sign of the times and once trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain and can lead to far worse events.

    1. Yes, because the average person can totally afford a “lawyer or two” just to have “on hand”. Right.

      1. I hear there’s a surplus these days though.. maybe some well-meaning lawyers could show up on the front lines pro bono for a bit? *hopeful look*

      2. There *are* lawyers hanging out there. The guy who may/may not have been run over by a police scooter was a lawyer. You don’t need to *hire* a lawyer to have lawyers at a protest. Surprisingly enough, you actually don’t have to be part of the right-wing power structure to pass the bar.

        1. Um, ok? You’re getting awfully defensive about stuff I didn’t even mention in my comment. Where did I ever imply that lawyers are only part of the right-wing power structure?!  Indeed, I was actually just about to reply to oohShiny (love that name, btw!) with: “I actually know a few lawyers who are supporters of OWS. This is a good idea. Of course, not all have the time or means, and not all are near a protest, but a good idea nonetheless.”  But, um, thanks for the jerky response.

          There may actually be lawyers hanging around willing to help people, but there probably aren’t nearly enough, and I’m sure this lady didn’t have time to find one, since she wasn’t even really there to be part of the protest. You can’t just snap your fingers, say, “Lawyer, stat, right at my side!” and have one appear. It doesn’t quite work like that, even if there are a few lawyers in the area.

          1. You can’t just snap your fingers, say, “Lawyer, stat, right at my side!” and have one appear. 
            Actually, Naomi Wolf can.

          2. Possibly, though I suspect she just didn’t have the time to even consider it.  It’s not always easy to think quickly on your feet and make impromptu decisions when you’re thrown into a situation you didn’t plan.

        2. Basically if you ask the National Lawyers Guild, they’ll come and observe at your protest.  You’ll still get arrested though. 

    2. Sadly it really wouldn’t.  One of the major points my (somewhat famous criminal defense attorney) law professor made on the first day of Criminal Procedure was: even if you see cops blatantly violating what you know the law to be, don’t try to intervene because you’ll just end up getting arrested and held for 48 hours along with the other arrestee. 

      These days it would probably be “maced and arrested” but the point stands. 

    3. they did have lawyers, when the lawyers went to walk to the first precinct to speak with there client’s the cops then took them to another precinct instead!!!!!! 

  12. So where’s the HuffPo comment on this? First thing I did was head to their site since it was their event and presumably their permit? All I can find is “just the fact maam” but no statement about the permit itself.
    Surely HuffPo would Wolf’s side since she writes for them and was invited to the event?

    1. The Declaration of Indepedence: But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism,
      it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security

  13. I believe that Scientology set this precedent, getting “filming” and construction permits to keep protesters off the sidewalks along their facilities. But very few people were paying attention to that…

  14. The law is whatever rich white people tell the cops it is. Her sentence says it all. It’s bad enough when it’s Blacks or Latinos or people of Middle Eastern descent…but damnit, she draws the line at white people in evening dress. I mean really…what has this country come to when a white women in an evening gown can get arrested by the cops like any common darky? I mean when she says, “then they come for you,” just who is this “you” she is talking about?

  15. Entrapment by estoppel, Raley v. Ohio.  Civil right violation as well, first amendment. You have to be pretty dense to not know you’re violating someone’s free speech rights so no qualified immunity. Sue the cops as individuals under 42 USC 1983.

  16. Just wondering…. how much money does Naomi Wolf make? The best figures I’ve found lately indicate that the cut off for the bottom 99% is 350K/year. She’s a well-enough known writer, speaker, and so on that it would not surprise me if she hovered at or near that level… which would mean she’s one of the 1%. She might well be under the line, of course, but I doubt she’s very FAR under it. (For example, I’d be seriously surprised if she earns less than 100K a year, which would be the cutoff for the top 20%.) Certainly, people like Michael Moore are far across the 1% line, much further from the 99% than most of the bankers, lawyers, etc, who wander past the protesters day after day, most of whom do not make anywhere near 350K. (Some, of course, are many times richer than that, but not anything like the majority — which is the whole point, right?) I think it would be an interesting statement of principle if OWS formed a consensus to not accept aid, support, appearances, acts of solidarity, etc, from anyone whose income or personal assets put them into the 1%.  (There’s no ‘head’ or ‘leader’ of OWS, but there is a general consensus/gestalt which spreads quickly. A principle such as “We don’t care if you’re a millionaire Republican banker or a millionaire socialist filmmaker, the 1% is the 1%, and we’re the 99%, not you.” would be an interesting stance to see them collectively adopt. Of course, you get a lot more media attention if you have a few mastercard marxists acting as public spokesmen, and what’s a little thing like principle compared to publicity? (And the chance to join the 1%, once the media decides who they want to annoint as the “face” of OWS and turn them into a perennial talking head guest on the usual circuits.))

    1. Better instead to welcome with open arms any shows of solidarity from the 1%. We’re stronger together, and if the 1% can be convinced to join in plans for helping out the other 99% to their own detriment, how can we refuse?

    2. Why? The position of OWS isn’t that the 1% are evil. It’s that they control too large a portion of the country’s wealth and pay too little in tax. Some members of the 1% agree with that position and have every right to say so.

  17. woland .. every right to say so .. hell .. them pay so.  Poor me .. I’m not paying enough.  So go pay MORE.   Go dog, Go!
    Picketting and sit-ins (too old for ya?) occupy don’t solve the problems.  Just like Vietnam .. it takes someone truly great to solve the problem. Just ask Richard Nixon.

  18. within 2 months the 1% will tire of this, and there will be  A Beating of Heads; how the country takes this – will we be chicago 68, or paris 68? – will decide whether we begin to descend into a nightmare, or rise from it.

    i’m thinkin’ chicago……………

  19. The police’s goal is to disrupt the protest, and arrest is their first-line tactic. Whether the arrest itself, or the “law” cited, is legitimate isn’t really germane. In fact, it’s safe to assume that arresting officers know their actions aren’t lawful. But, it doesn’t really matter. Their mission is to disrupt protest. They know full-well that the charges will most-likely be dismissed/dropped later, and no court will want to sort-through which officer did what unlawfully. All that matters is that the protest was disrupted. Mission accomplished. Repeat as necessary.

    1. I agree with what you’re saying, having once spent three nights in jail on five grand bail for “demonstrating without a permit” only to be let go once the event we were demonstrating against was over, but would add that the arresting officers in protests often don’t know the law–it’s not a situation they’re familiar with–and most often the blame for the tactics you very accurately describe lie with the higher ups and not the rank and file.

  20. what??  nobody told me that the breakdown of civil society was going to be formal!  damn, and the black crepe de chine is at the cleaners.

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