After a day of marches through lower Manhattan last Saturday to celebrate the six-month anniversary of the Occupy movement, protesters reoccupied Zuccotti Park. A violent intervention by the NYPD, however, resulted in large numbers of brutal arrests. Occupiers have since moved to Union Square to maintain the right to assemble and voice dissent in public spaces.
According to the Village Voice, “Where many of Occupy Wall Street’s recent actions have consisted of no more than a couple hundred protesters at most, this march was unquestionably larger. The protesters were clearly enjoying their greater numbers, and some took the opportunity to taunt police, hurling insults and flipping the bird at officers attempting to herd the march. For their part, police were also more aggressive than in recent Occupy actions, repeatedly shoving protesters who got in their way. When the march returned to the square, there were further standoffs, as police arrested half a dozen protesters, provoking an angry response from the occupiers. Three times, senior ‘white-shirt’ officers paraded in a column through the center of the park without discernible purpose, agitating protesters and escalating the level of tension in the park.”
The violence seems to have been deliberately instigated by senior officers, frustrated by the protesters’ defiance of police control. The New York Times reports: “The crowd was small but spirited and marched past the bronze sculpture of a bull at Bowling Green, which had served as a mustering spot for the first march. … And, as they did that day, the marchers made sudden turns that appeared to surprise the police and walked along Wall Street for at least a brief time. … members of the group ignored orders from the police to remain on sidewalks and flowed onto parts of Exchange Place and Beaver Street. Later, on Broad Street, a deputy inspector turned to a sergeant and said, ‘We got to start collaring some’.” Allison Kilkenny identified one individual, 1st Precinct Commanding Officer Edward Winski, acting unnecessarily aggressively toward protesters: “shoving them out of his way even as they were trying to move back onto the sidewalk, for example,” who was involved in starting the first major scuffle between police and protesters.
Police told a large group of protesters they could not stand on the sidewalk on a stretch of Liberty Street, pushing them against a wall that borders the park, the Times report continues. “Then the police began grabbing and arresting people, taking into custody at least half a dozen. Officers surged into the crowd, dragging protesters toward the street, as people yelled objections. ‘They were grabbing people randomly,’ Zachary Kamel said, adding that his girlfriend, Lauren DiGoia, had been arrested while dancing on the sidewalk. One sergeant grabbed a woman wearing a green shirt by the bottom of her throat and shoved her head against the hood of a car. A moment later, another officer approached and forcefully pressed her head against the car before placing her into the back of a police truck.”
Protesters returned to the park by 7 p.m. for a General Assembly, where the crowd started to grow. The Occupied Wall Street Journal describes the event: “As the sun went down, hundreds of additional people marched to the park from the nearby Left Forum, including Michael Moore, tipping the crowd well over the 1,000-mark. At 11 p.m., a clique of French bagpipe players dropped by the park after participating in a St. Patrick’s Day parade earlier in the day and began serenading the assembly. This was apparently too much revelry for the NYPD: within 10 minutes, the bagpipers had been arrested. At this, the crowd grew understandably tense. Police had already been massing on Broadway in preparation for yet another raid – this one clearly illegal, as a court order allowed occupiers back into Liberty Square on November 15, 2011, albeit without tents. A commander then announced that the park was closed.”
Occupiers shouted back that the park was obliged through an agreement with the city to remain open. The commander then announced that anyone who remained inside would be arrested and charged with trespassing. Police forced demonstrators out of the park and from nearby sidewalks, and protesters began a new and determined march, which was met with more violent arrests. “The activist Cecily McMillan was one of the ejected demonstrators: after being handcuffed and pushed to the ground by cops, who then kicked her and cracked her ribs, she began having a seizure. Luke Rudkowski of We Are Change filmed the police as they surrounded her on the ground while she seized, refusing to remove her zip-tie handcuffs. Eventually two ambulances arrived, and she was taken to a hospital – where police refused her a phone call, according to a friend at her bedside.” Eyewitnesses describe her treatment here.
The Village Voice reports: “As the march veered south on Crosby Street, police arrested one man after throwing him up against metal shutters. C.S. Muncy, who photographed the arrest, described a police officer smashing his megaphone into the back of the man’s head. Continuing north, the march crossed Houston, then swerved left down 10th street, which was again the scene of violent arrests. Police threw one man into a plate-glass window, cracking it, before cuffing him. At least three others were also arrested there.”
The Occupied Wall Street Journal confirms this account: “On Crosby Street, an OWS medic named Jose was detained by multiple officers, who smashed his semi-bald head into a fortified glass window, cracking it. When a fellow demonstrator asked why such brutality was necessary, an officer replied, ‘No reason.’ … Stanley Rogouski, a photographer who has captured the Occupy Movement since its infancy, said the violence was not coming from young, relatively inexperienced cadets, but rather the NYPD’s top brass: ‘It was absolutely not the cadets who were stirring up the trouble. Thinking so couldn’t be more wrong. It was the white shirts (senior officers almost all in their 40s) who were ratcheting up the tension again and again and again. The blueshirts and younger cops were standing around looking confused. This wasn’t only a police riot, it was a riot of the top brass. I’ve never seen so many middle aged white guys picking fights with college age kids in my life. …This was about fortyish white guys, senior NYPD officers ratcheting up the tension in a very calibrated, very well thought out manner,’ Rogouski repeated for emphasis.”
The assault on protesters and press expresses the politicization of the NYPD leadership and other police forces around the country as part of a state drive to criminalize dissent. Far from opposing it, the Obama administration has mounted a vicious campaign against whistle-blowers, the most prominent being Bradley Manning, while continuing the Bush erosion of civil liberties. But the refusal of occupiers to back down in the face of deliberate intimidation is confounding the authoritarian plans of the state and confirms that the American people will resist allowing the one percent to continue commandeering all of society’s resources.