Despite the images of a New York police commander pepper spraying non-violent female protesters and police use of tear gas and other projectiles against Occupy demonstrators in Oakland, there is a continuous plea to the police: join us. After all, police officers' union benefits and pensions are under attack around the country, putting them in the ranks of all other public-sector workers, who make up the last remaining vestige of the American blue-collar middle class.
"We are the 99%," protesters often cry during marches, with some gesturing to the police columns and adding, "and so are you."
Is it so simple? The Occupy Wall Street movement will hit its two-month birthday this month, and there are still reports of mass arrests and videos depicting excessive police force around the country. No cop has refused an order, though there is a rumor that in Denver, a cop publicly cried while forced to evict an encampment and said, "I can't do this anymore." Police unions have not joined the rest of the labor movement in supporting OWS – though in a nice twist of irony, the encampments have been a boon of overtime pay for the cops on OWS duty.
Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, agreed that the OWS talking points of class inequality, the need for good jobs and call for investment in public services should resonate with police officers. "The cops don't see themselves as labor," he said. "It's a conservative culture – not politically, but conservative as slow-moving to change."
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