OWS Protesters Finding Out What Blacks Have Always Known About the Police
Occupy Wall Street Wins Converts, Flummoxes Cops on Global Day of Protest
By Nick Turse, AlterNet
They looked like a small army. Just a few short
blocks from Liberty Plaza, where a four-week occupation has spawned the
beginnings of a new mini-society, the opposition was gathering. Unlike Occupy Wall Street, this “rally” had no drum circles and no people’s kitchen. They carried no signs and chanted no slogans. What they had were weapons, vehicles and a cohesive look. A not-so-thin blue line, punctuated by white-shirted superiors, carrying out their own occupation with no threat of eviction.
Clustered around the Church of Saint Peter, the New
York City Police Department had created a staging ground for the day’s
actions. Six NYPD buses, the kind often used to cart mass
arrestees to jail, were parked in the vicinity, along with 15 scooters,
12 police vans, two marked and several unmarked SUVs and squad cars,
several flatbed trucks overflowing with metal fences, and a bus-sized command unit. More than 70 cops milled around on the street, talking, texting and listening to briefings. Just like at Liberty Plaza, there was energy in the air, but here it was a nervous kind.
The word came down not long after 11am. Something
was happening at Zuccotti Park and the cops began piling into their vans
and hopping on their scooters. Sirens whooped to life and lights started flashing. The
police were on the move and whipped around the block to get to
Broadway, only to crawl along, held up by lights, traffic and mostly
each other. Outpacing them on foot, I watched the frustration on the faces of the higher ranking officers sitting in their cars. By
the time they turned onto Liberty Street next to the park, a raucous
group of Occupy Wall Street protesters was streaming out of Liberty
“C’mon, c’mon!” a white-shirted commander yelled, trying to hasten his troops along, but they weren’t moving fast enough. The flat-foots had been caught flat-footed and people of the park were in the lead. It would be the same story all afternoon.
The marchers, flying American flags among many
others, headed up Cedar Street, away from the park, cheering and
chanting, drumming and dancing. “We are the 99 percent,” filled the air as the crowd snaked through the streets of lower Manhattan. Police
brass were always ahead of the marchers, who stayed on the sidewalks
and were flanked by cops on scooters, but it was painfully apparent the
NYPD was along for the ride.
Their first stop of many throughout the day was a
Chase Bank branch where the marchers made a statement, just as they have
at Liberty Plaza, by staying put. “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out,” the crowd sang as they held their ground.
Through a megaphone a police commander shouted,
“Please keep moving in an orderly fashion, if you don’t move you will be
subject to arrest.” But the crowd didn’t listen. He tried again and again and again: eight announcements in all. But the police didn’t have the numbers or the nets or maybe even the stomach for riling the highly energized crowd. When
he shouted “Get off the fire hydrant,” at someone perched there to
shoot video, his voice cracked and I thought he was going to cry.
Someone at the head of the march announced the group was moving out and the Occupy Wall Streeters were off again. As they wound their way back toward Broadway, the police brass at the head of the march were getting exasperated. I
watched a white shirt angrily shoo away a colleague in a suit as he
talked on the phone. More than one commander complained that the press –
newspaper reporters, video camera crews, still photographers – all
clustered at the head of the march were slowing things down and causing
the protest to be more disruptive.
“There’s press all over the place, they’re slowing
everything down, get them moving,” one gray-suited police official, with
a crewcut and a Secret Service-type earpiece, shouted into his cell
phone as the march moved up Broadway. A block or so later, I felt a hand on my back. “Walk
a little faster, that’s all I’m askin’,” said a cop wearing a black
jacket bearing a NYPD DCPI patch – indicating he was from the
department’s public information outfit.
“Hey boss, I need some community
affairs cops,” he yelled over the din to a superior in the street,
throwing up his hands in exasperation. “Hey guys,” he shouted at me and some photographers, “we gotta walk.”
It turned out, however, that it was the police – those on scooters, beat cops on foot, NYPD’s Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU) officers with hand-held video cameras and NYPD vehicles –
who clogged the streets and slowed things down, negotiating block to
block whether the march would go around this truck or cross this street.
But the march just kept moving at its own pace and the cops kept shouting for the crowd to “keep moving in an orderly fashion.” They’re lucky the marchers did. Had the protesters bolted in all directions at any point, the police would have been lost.
Hours after it kicked off, the march arrived in Washington Square Park, having lost none of its energy. While
doctors in white coats, part of the “Heathcare for the 99 percent”
movement, shared heartrending stories of patients without adequate
insurance and college kids sat in a circle and planned possible school
building occupations, the marchers took a breather and the cops grabbed
Then as suddenly as they appeared, the marchers
were off again and it was the cops, reacting slowly, who blocked streets
and disrupted traffic.
“Whose streets? Our streets!” boomed the protesters as they streamed out of the park toward a rally in Times Square. As they made a right onto 6th Avenue, the Occupy Wall Street crew began chanting, “We are the 99 percent and so are you!” A crowd soon formed across the broad avenue as daytrippers and tourists snapped photos and shot cell phone video of the crowd.
“Stop watching, start walking,” a young woman in the middle of the march yelled, and she was soon joined by a chorus. Across 6th Avenue, some people waved, some smiled and some looked away. But a woman with a small child holding her hand moved forward and took a tentative step into the crosswalk. The crowd beckoned her forward, and while the young boy looked wary, she coaxed him on. In an instant, the crowd erupted in a loud cheer and gleeful applause as the pair crossed the street and joined the march. With
two more recruits in tow, the women and men of Occupy Wall Street
seemed to double the decibels as they launched into their signature
chant: “We are the 99 percent!”
And off they went, heading north to Times Square and beyond.
Editor’s Note: The Occupy Wall Street march culminated with a rally in Times Square that drew thousands. According
to wire service reports, 24 people were arrested — most of them for
trespassing, according to police — at a Citibank branch near Washington
Square Park, and another five were taken into custody near Times
We Have a First Amendment Right to Protest — So Why All These Arrests Around Occupy Wall Street?
By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
On Saturday night, 175 members of Occupy Chicago were arrested
after refusing to comply with a curfew the city had imposed on Grant
Park. According to In These Times editor Joe Macaré, the arrests took place “one by one, and by all accounts as peacefully as possible.”
It wasn’t such an orderly process in New York. Allison Kilkenny reported for the Nation
that “what unfolded [on Saturday] was a dramatic confrontation between
the NYPD and protesters in which individuals were almost mowed down by
police motorcycles, nearly trampled by horses, and ultimately ninety-two
activists were arrested.”
In cities and towns across the country, 1,500 American citizens have
been put in cuffs in the first month of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
While a small handful of them have been charged with various acts of
mayhem, the vast majority were peacefully demonstrating. They were
arrested for not complying with orders to disperse, or for refusing to
tear down the encampments that have come to symbolize the movement. We
have a right to peacefully assemble and protest in this country, so what
On its face, “occupying” public space should be guaranteed under the
First Amendment. The courts have long held that “expressive activities”
are accorded the same protections as the right to speak or freedom of
the press. The classic example is flag-burning – a person may not be
saying anything when he or she lights up a flag, but it is nonetheless a
form of political expression protected by the Bill of Rights.
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights,
told AlterNet, “The tenting, the camping, the tarps, the patio polls,
the cooking — all of that is part of the political expression of Occupy
Wall Street. That’s what it embodies. This is not a one-day
demonstration. This is saying, ‘We will occupy, we will stay here as
part of our political expression until things change.’ I think it’s
embodied in the protections afforded by the First Amendment.” He added:
“How can you occupy unless you have tents and sleeping bags to protect
people from the elements?”
The First Amendment’s guarantees are not, however, absolute. The
government is able to determine the appropriate time, place and manner
for citizens to speak their mind, as long as those restrictions are
based on maintaining public order and aren’t designed to prevent a
particular message from getting out – any and all restrictions must be
“content-neutral.” And whatever restrictions are placed on our right to
dissent must be tailored as narrowly as possible to maintain that order.
The state can’t place limits that effectively leave no outlet for
As Christopher Dunn noted in the New York Law Journal, two recent cases highlight how the courts have dealt with this tension. In Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence,
the Supreme Court affirmed a decision by the National Park Service to
bar protesters from camping out on the National Mall because, in Dunn’s
summation, “the sleeping was less symbolic and more intended to
facilitate participation in the protest.” The court recognized that
preserving the mall was a legitimate government interest, and that
barring protesters from sleeping on it was a narrowly targeted means of
In New York, another case, Metropolitan Council Inc. v. Safir,
centered on issues that appear to be more similar to those presented by
the occupation movement. In 2000, homeless activists held a candlelight
vigil next to Gracie Mansion “to be followed by protesters sleeping on a
public sidewalk across the street once the park closed to symbolize the
risk of homelessness.” Although New York didn’t have an ordinance
against sleeping on sidewalks, the NYPD didn’t allow people to do so,
claiming that it blocked pedestrian traffic and constituted disorderly
conduct. Judge Kimba Wood ruled on behalf of the protesters, noting that
the act of sleeping outside was itself an expressive activity, that the
protesters had pledged to take up only half of the sidewalk, leaving
room for pedestrians, and that a complete ban wasn’t narrowly tailored
to uphold the city’s legitimate public interests. She called the ban,
Another issue underlying these widespread arrests is what, exactly,
constitutes “legitimate government interests.” According to Ratner, “A
lot of general ordinances are being used illegally. They’re using
general statutes that are very vague, and subject to a cop’s own
He noted that the vast majority of those arrested in New York were
charged with disorderly conduct, a statute that prohibits people from
making “unreasonable noise,” obstructing “vehicular or pedestrian
traffic,” or congregating “with other persons in a public place” after
receiving “a lawful order of the police to disperse.” Ratner notes that
most of these “arrests won’t stand up,” but, in the words of former
police chief John Timoney – the architect of what’s come to be known as
the Miami model of aggressive crowd control – “you can beat the wrap,
but you can’t beat the ride.” In other words, activists subject to
arrest may have their cases thrown out of court, but not before being
taken off the streets for a period of time.
There are also questions about whether these ordinances are truly
content-neutral. At the site of Occupy Wall Street, rules are being put
into effect “after the fact,” says Ratner. “In New York, there were a
bunch of regulations issued around Zuccotti Park once the occupations
got underway. No camping, no tarps – that already tells me that there’s a
question here about whether these rules are truly neutral. It looks
like they’re specially tailored toward the people doing the occupation.”
Another question is whether these myriad ordinances are narrowly
tailored. On its face, in the context of a political movement premised
on occupying public space, passing or enforcing laws that forbid any
manner of occupation appear to be overly broad. The courts have long
ruled that the exercise of our First Amendment rights justifies some
minor inconvenience to the public.
“If you look at the history of these kinds of regulations of public
spaces,” says Ratner, “even though they should be the preeminent place
for dissent in this country, they are loaded with regulations
essentially intended to limit dissent.” Ratner predicts that most of the
cases brought under these kinds of restrictions won’t lead to
convictions, but in all likelihood the underlying issues also won’t be
subjected to judicial review.
Wall Street’s Second Occupation: The Rise of the NYPD’s Homeland Security State
By Tom Engelhardt, Tomdispatch.com
These last weeks, there have been two “occupations” in lower Manhattan, one of which has been getting almost all
the coverage — that of the demonstrators camping out in Zuccotti Park.
The other, in the shadows, has been hardly less massive, sustained, or
in its own way impressive — the police occupation of the Wall Street area.
On a recent visit to the park, I found the streets around the Stock
Exchange barricaded and blocked off to traffic, and police everywhere in
every form (in and out of uniform) — on foot, on scooters, on
motorcycles, in squad cars with lights flashing, on horses, in paddy
wagons or minivans, you name it. At the park’s edge, there is a police
observation tower capable of being raised and lowered hydraulically and
literally hundreds of police are stationed in the vicinity. I counted
more than 50 of them on just one of its sides at a moment when next to
nothing was going on — and many more can be seen almost anywhere in the
Wall Street area, lolling in doorways, idling in the subway, ambling on
the plazas of banks, and chatting in the middle of traffic-less
This might be seen as massive overkill. After all, the New York police have already shelled out an extra $1.9 million,
largely in overtime pay at a budget-cutting moment in the city. When,
as on Thursday, 100 to 150 marchers suddenly headed out from Zuccotti
Park to circle Chase Bank several blocks away, close to the same number
of police — some with ominous clumps of flexi-cuffs dangling from their
belts — calved off with them. It’s as if the Occupy Wall Street
movement has an eternal dark shadow that follows it everywhere.
At one level, this is all mystifying. The daily crowds in the park
remain remarkably, even startlingly, peaceable. (Any violence has
generally been the product
of police action.) On an everyday basis, a squad of 10 or 15 friendly
police officers could easily handle the situation. There is, of course,
another possibility suggested to me by one of the policemen loitering at
the Park’s edge doing nothing in particular: “Maybe they’re peaceable
because we’re here.” And here’s a second possibility: as my friend Steve Fraser, author of Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace,
said to me, “This is the most important piece of real estate on the
planet and they’re scared. Look how amazed we are. Imagine how they
feel, especially after so many decades of seeing nothing like it.”
And then there’s a third possibility: that two quite separate
universes are simply located in the vicinity of each other and of what,
since September 12, 2001, we’ve been calling Ground Zero. Think of it as
Ground Zero Doubled, or think of it as the militarized recent American
past and the unknown, potentially inspiring American future occupying
something like the same space. (You can, of course, come up with your
own pairings, some far less optimistic.) In their present state, New
York’s finest represent a local version of the way this country has been
militarized to its bones in these last years and, since 9/11,
transformed into a full-scale surveillance-intelligence-homeland-security state.
Their stakeout in Zuccotti Park is geared to extreme acts, suicide
bombers, and terrorism, as well as to a conception of protest and
opposition as alien and enemy-like. They are trying to herd, lock in,
and possibly strangle a phenomenon that bears no relation to any of
this. They are, that is, policing the wrong thing, which is why every
act of pepper spraying or swing of the truncheon, every aggressive act
(as in the recent eviction threat to “clean” the park) blows back on them and only increases the size and coverage of the movement.
Though much of the time they are just a few feet apart, the armed state backing that famed 1%, or Wall Street, and the unarmed protesters claiming
the other 99% might as well be in two different times in two different
universes connected by a Star-Trekkian wormhole and meeting only where
pepper spray hits eyes.
Which means anyone visiting the Occupy Wall Street site is also
watching a strange dance of phantoms. Still, we do know one thing. This
massive semi-militarized force we continue to call “the police” will, in
the coming years, only grow more so. After all, they know but one way
Right now, for instance, over crowds of protesters the police hover
in helicopters with high-tech cameras and sensors, but in the future
there can be little question that in the skies of cities like New York,
the police will be operating advanced drone aircraft. Already, as Nick
Turse indicates in a groundbreaking report “America’s Secret Empire of Drone Bases,” the U.S. military and the CIA are filling the global skies with missile-armed drones and the clamor for domestic drones is growing.
The first attack on an American neighborhood, not one in Iraq,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, or Libya, surely lurks somewhere
in our future. Empires, after all, have a way of coming home to roost.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), will be published in November.
- Loading ...