Roughly two hundred protesters gathered in Washington Square Park with pots, pans, whisks, ladles, and other forms of kitchenware for a nightly protest in solidarity with the students of Quebec, who have been on strike for 110 days in opposition to tuition hikes and an emergency law restricting protest rights. Despite the restrictive law, as many as 400,000 Canadians have flooded the streets of Montreal, just north of the border. In homage to those protesters, participants in Wednesday's demonstration in New York City pinned small squares of red cloth to their shirts, a play on the phrase "squarely in the red."
A woman named Audrey, originally from Montreal, addressed criticisms of the Québécois students. "The tuition levels as they stand in Quebec," she said, "are the lowest in North America. People are calling the Quebec students spoiled. But ... they're not afraid to say that they believe it's their right to have access to free or very affordable education." In the US, student debt recently surpassed a total of $1 trillion, meaning that access to higher education is significantly scarcer in the United States, but has inspired protests only a tiny fraction of the size and ferocity of those in Quebec.
As the march wound its way through Greenwich Village and up to Times Square, the police made it clear that even this small show of dissent was unwelcome and that they were willing to deploy seemingly arbitrary violence and intimidation to demoralize the protesters. Lagging behind the march, a white-shirted commanding officer named McNamara shouted to the blue-shirted street cops in his immediate vicinity, "Come on, guys! Get the fuck up there and lock somebody up!"
Multiple non-protester eyewitnesses later confirmed that one demonstrator with a dislocated shoulder, "screaming his head off" for the policemen not to cuff him, was repeatedly yanked by cops, on the order of one counterterrorism unit officer, pictured here, whose presence itself was unjustified, as there was absolutely no threat of terrorism whatsoever. When medical technicians got to the scene, they had the man uncuffed and put in a sling.
At the intersection of Broadway and 42nd Street, police set up a roadblock separating the march in two. One walk sign lapsed, then another, then another. I repeatedly attempted to cross when I had the light - my right - only to be shoved in the chest and told to get back on the sidewalk. When I asked why this policy was suddenly in place, one officer told me in the presence of a legal observer, "We're just cops, we don't make the rules." I indicated that if cops haven't made the no-crossing-when-the-sign-says-walk rule, the rule wouldn't exist, to no avail.
Next, I saw a scuffle out of which several policemen pulled a slight, young woman and threw her down on the concrete. The scene is pictured here. No one who witnessed the event could offer any insight into the reasons the police had for arresting her, much less exerting such physical force in the effort.
An Officer Diaz confronted one protester with a bandana over his mouth and told him he was not allowed to wear it. "It's not Halloween; it's not a masquerade; you're breaking the law." The young man turned to leave, and Officer Diaz yanked him back. "I'm not asking you; I'm telling you. Well, I am asking you nicely" - he wasn't - "but now I'm telling you." The young man objected, and Officer Diaz snatched him away.
I attempted to follow, but found Officer St. Jacques' night stick shoving me in the chest. I notified him that I was a member of the press attempting to report on the development, and he announced, "I don't really care," and proceeded to shove me twice more, in full view of his superior, Officer Tloczkowski, who has a history of arresting journalists. Here is video of me confronting St. Jacques and of Tloczkowski accusing me of having threatened him.
Here is video of St. Jacques looking around and then thrusting his club into my back gratuitously as I attempted to comply with his arbitrary orders.
As the march's numbers dwindled, the group reached the Chase Bank building, where cops informed us that the closed building's management had insisted that this was private property and were demanding the people sitting beside the fountain leave, which resulted in at least two more arrests. A woman in business attire, however, was allowed to remain sitting there, speaking on her cell phone, without arrest or harassment.
The recent unbroken spate of acquittals Occupy Wall Street activists have racked up - not for lack of evidence, but simply for the arbitrary nature of the arrests - begin to give the impression of a pattern of official intimidation of dissidents and journalists, which is, of course, unconstitutional. As jurists march with Canadian protesters, almost no one in this country is paying attention, not to Montreal, not to student debt, not to capricious American policing, not to an enforcement regime that slashes our crucial freedoms.
This lack of attention constitutes a casual surrender of what is most precious to us, and it isn't soda.