On September 24, 2011, at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration at Union Square, one officer from the New York Police Department (NYPD) singlehandedly became the catalyst for the burgeoning Occupy movement.
That afternoon during an Occupy march, NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna ( a “white shirt” - indicating a rank of lieutenant or above) decided to pepper-spray a small group of female activists trapped inside an orange, mesh police net.
I won’t say that it was the ‘actions’ of Deputy Inspector Bologna since this has as much to do with Bologna’s alleged personality and presence at Occupy Wall Street as it does with the pepper spray action itself.
For Bologna was flagged early on by Occupy Wall Street as being particularity heavy-handed towards activists and is now continually referenced on different Occupy Wall Street livestreams, commentaries and in the mainstream media itself.
In short, he has become a sort of NYPD boogieman, a living meme of police brutality.
In video footage of the event – with one Youtube posting alone at 871,799 views – has become central footage of the Occupy movement with a stark image that easily lends itself to metaphor.
In USLaw.com’s footage caught in slow motion, Bologna and another NYPD “white shirt” walk towards a group of female activists in a police mini-kettle on the corner of East 12th Street and University Place.
Bologna raises a container of pepper-spray in his hand and deploys the chemical irritant in a sweeping motion directly into the faces of the woman trapped there.
Of the event, the NY Daily News reported, “Cops arrested more than 80 people near Union Square… Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna doused a handful of women with pepper spray— spawning a video clip that helped embolden the movement.”
The International Business Times, “…protest against police treatment of protestors, an issue that has garnered substantial attention since a video in which an officer uses pepper spray on two apparently defenseless protestors surfaced…. reports of police brutality have historically helped to strengthen protests like Occupy Wall Street, drawing a comparison to a 1968 sit-in at Columbia University that gained notice after police officers violently intervened”
In a USLaw.com analysis of the incident, the pepper-spraying incident, “creating a national conversation about the treatment of demonstrators by the New York Police Department with particular attention on the actions of the senior officer wielding the pepper spray canister in the video, who was identified by a witnessing photographer.
The police department's initial reaction was to condone the officer's actions as being 'sparing' and 'appropriate' while discrediting the video's integrity. The officer was also said to have justified the use of gas as an attempt to arrest men fleeing from the area.”
A month after the September 24, 2011 incident, an internal NYPD investigation found that Deputy Inspector Bologna was in violation of NYPD’s department guidelines. He was given a departmental punishment, docked 10 vacation days and transferred to Staten Island.
This led two of the women who were caught in the police net and pepper-sprayed by Bologna to file a lawsuit in February 2012 in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan where they accuse the inspector of pepper-spraying them, “for no legal reason”.
New York City has officially announced that it will not defend Bologna against the women’s civil lawsuit in court, as the city found the inspector’s defense of his actions to be inadequate.
All this despite the fact that the city looked like it would initially back its officer, when the Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, originally said the police had used the pepper spray “appropriately” back in September 2011.
A police union has stepped up to help pay for Bologna's defense.
NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told the media on Friday that the city's stance could have a "chilling effect" on police officers, stating it might make officers more unlikely to “engage” demonstrators.