Police officers prepare to detain protesters with the Occupy Wall Street movement during a rally at Zuccotti Park in New York, March 17, 2012. Scores of Occupy Wall Street protesters, demonstrating in celebration of the movement's sixth-month anniversary, were arrested Saturday night as police officers swept Zuccotti Park and closed it. (Photo: Robert Stolarik / The New York Times)
The brief re-occupation of Zuccotti Park and its swift re-eviction are both previews of the season to come. With numbers augmented by warm weather, St. Patrick’s Day’s festive atmosphere and the Left Forum conference (the hundreds of panels of which took place at nearby Pace University), the protesters who took to Zuccotti Park to celebrate six months of Occupy Wall Street sent out a mass text on Saturday evening, reading "OccupyNYC: Liberty Square is being RE-OCCUPIED! 500+ people and growing! Come on down! Bring blankets & food!"
Occupy Wall Street's message: prepare for a radical spring. Chants of "a-anti-anti-capitalista" were more frequent and more broadly based than I had ever heard at an Occupy Wall Street event, suggesting that the movement has begun to coalesce around an ideological principle. "Anti-capitalism" may not be the most specific philosophy, but it belies proclamations like Bill Maher’s "they don’t hate capitalism; they hate what’s been done to it," whatever that means. The group also engaged in a raucous and sprawling "Simon Says"-like activity that helped acclimatize protesters to forming a fortified human wall for "soft blocks," indicating a more militant, confrontational (yet still nonviolent) attitude brewing among the occupiers.
They got the chance to test out their newly acquired skills not long after the game concluded. A small group of protesters had put up what police were calling a "structure," which consisted of a dozen or so unfurled cardboard boxes, draped over a banner hung between two trees. This provided occasion for the New York Police Department’s own tone-setting action. The NYPD’s message: prepare for a violent spring.
It's quite possible that, had the police let the protesters hang out in the park, the numbers would have dwindled down to a few dozen by 1 a.m., and the park would have been easy to maintain. Instead, the decision was made (although no officer would tell me by whom) to deploy hundreds of police to empty the park.
Detective Rick Lee remarked just before the deployment, "Unfortunately, it’s probably going to get pretty ugly in a few minutes." Either the NYPD was breathtakingly incompetent at de-escalation on Saturday night, or it was impressively competent at escalation.
Captain Edward Winski, who commands the 1st Precinct, announced over a bullhorn, "Park’s closed for cleaning. If you do not leave, you will be arrested for trespassing." Around 100 protesters opted for the latter, sitting down and linking arms on a patch of earth where flowers bloomed in the occupation’s early days and weeks. I watched the police break up the group by punching protesters about the head, repeatedly stomping on shoulders and arms, grabbing throats, dragging protesters by the hair and clawing at their faces. Even when protesters tried to leave, they were subject to rough contact. Officer Chantel ("I don’t have a badge number," he told me) repeatedly pushed one young woman, who declined to be named, up the stairs out of the park, as she shouted again and again, "I’m leaving; you don’t have to push me!"
Captain Winski - whose command post should ideally free him up from hands-on duty with protesters - repeatedly shoved me away from the scene. I informed him that I was a journalist and could not see the story from where he was instructing me to stand. He pointed out that I was not wearing proper press credentials. I reminded him that it was his department that issues the credentials. He expressed his apathy with distinct impoliteness, telling me I was "nobody."
Perhaps the police thought that the violence and arrests would subdue the protesters, in which case, they haven’t been paying attention for the last six months. The opposite happened, and the charged-up protesters, deprived once again of the park they occupied on September 17, headed out on a march to Union Square, where they were subject to still more aggressive official backlash.
Even more notorious among occupiers than Captain Winski, Sgt. Iaquinto (badge number: 2253) wore a jacket announcing him as a member of the Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU), which - theoretically - videotapes protests, among other means of investigative technical support. In Soho, after one especially violent arrest, Iaquinto charged at one protester who was chanting "shame," and shouted, "You talking to me, motherfucker?"
Later in the march, Iaquinto thrust Ki Walker, 22, of Vermont, against a wall and frisked him down, telling Walker, "Just to let you know, I’m a little crazier than you." Multiple eyewitnesses confirmed that Iaquinto picked up a small young woman and slammed her down on the concrete without provocation. Previously, on December 17, Iaquinto had distinguished himself by assaulting a Democracy Now! cameraman wearing a press pass.
A man wishing to be identified as "Stan Corazone" testified, "What appeared to be a high-ranking officer said 'excuse me' to a marcher - and one second later shoved him into a metal scaffolding pole." Police chased down a protester in front of New York University dormitory Brittany Hall, slamming him up against the glass door and shattering it (3:50 in this video).
An officer I’d recently heard remark, "I've had enough of this shit. I've really had enough. Should have been done September 18," was captured in this photograph grabbing his firearm while he straddled a grounded protester. Other cops arrested protester Jesse Deen, seemingly for the crime of asking for the badge number of an especially abrasive officer.
A protester who I recognized from his day job as a City Council aide was arrested despite his contention, which I can corroborate, that he had not set foot in the street, but was standing on the sidewalk at the time of arrest. Some protesters threw trash in the street. Others picked it up and returned it to the trashcans, but stopped when police threatened to arrest them.
Protester Craig Judelman, who was in good cheer earlier in the evening, posted a photo of his now-bruised face to Facebook at roughly 5 a.m., with this message:
"just got punched in the face like 5 times by NYPD....guess they saw my earlier post...was with the rest of the occupiers after NYPD stormed the park and put up fences, we were backing down broadway, a block away when they hip-checked the people in front of me. as they fell i tried to support those falling so they didnt get trampled adn of course they grabbed me. put me in a headlock adn swung me on the ground, wripped the fiddle off my back and started pulling my hands behind my back-meanwhile i got slugged in the face by a few cops a good 5 or 6 times, got some nice bruises if you can't see em in the picture... they held em for an hour on the bus, i didn't even have an arresting officer adn the guy holding me couldn't tell me what i was being charged with cause they had just dumped me on him while they continued beating little girls up... luckilly they let me go with a disorderly conduct summons, some bad bruises and a sore wrist, and the good folks at jalopy gave me enough whiskey to numb the pain of opening my jaw"
As I wrote recently, the outlook for the spring is not placid - "NATO and G8 summits (now separate), May Day, the potential rollout of indictments by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's investigation of the financial sector, a shaky outlook for Greece and the Euro and ominous signs for Bank of America." At six months old, Occupy Wall Street looks ready to become increasingly radical and disciplined - and the NYPD looks ready to become increasingly heavy handed and repressive.
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