In this era of government austerity, particularly at the state and local levels, the median police salary in the small township of Saddle Brook, N.J., is more than $120,000. Virtually the entire force enjoys six-figure annual incomes. In North Brunswick, about an hour down the Garden State Parkway, the median police salary is over $110,000. Francis “Mac” Womack, the Democratic mayor of North Brunswick since 2012, defends this seemingly excessive compensation on the grounds that, while he “can go to sleep at night if we cut a recreation program,” he can’t sleep if his township is “doing without public safety" (the mayor did not specify who, exactly, was advocating a policy of no public safety).
The people who work at or attend recreation programs in North Brunswick must have felt all warm and fuzzy after hearing that. One expects this kind of sentiment from a law-and-order Republican, but this is a Democratic mayor of a blue city, with a relatively low crime rate.
I didn’t know Cecily McMillan two years ago, when I glimpsed her convulsing on the street, obscured from view by a cluster of NYPD officers and a confusion of Occupy protesters. Word spread swiftly through the downtown Manhattan intersection: The young woman had been assaulted by the cops; her body went into seizure, her brain unconscious, her ribs cracked.
That was March 17, 2012. Protesters were marking six months since Occupy Wall Street first inserted itself into an unremarkable concrete park in the financial district, breathing a gust of ephemeral insurrectionary momentum into Manhattan’s grid and beyond. The six-month anniversary was marked by raucous street marches and multiple arrests. It culminated in McMillan, a student at the New School, lying on the street by Zuccotti Park surrounded by police as onlookers shrieked for an ambulance to be called.
Two years later, the commercial flows of downtown Manhattan glide untouched by the enraged encampment and attendant marches that once had defiantly but fleetingly claimed that space. Many if not most occupiers returned to schools and jobs and semblances of normalcy under the vagaries of late capitalism. The system did not crumble. Occupy’s lasting imprint at times feels too faint to trace. But a return to normalcy was not available for McMillan.