Despite an optimistic mood at Occupy Wall Street (OWS) today due to a decision by Zuccotti Park's owner, Brookfield Office Properties, to not go forward with a planned cleanup of the space, demonstrators and police clashed in the Financial District this morning. This led to multiple arrests, as well as the arrest and hospitalization of a legal observer after his leg was caught under a moving New York Police Department (NYPD) scooter. The NYPD arrested the man after pulling him out from under the scooter because he kicked the scooter to try and get it off of him, witnesses said.
“I can confirm a legal observer [from the National Lawyers Guild] was arrested and at this time he is at the hospital,” Liberty Park Legal Working Group lawyer Gideon Orion Oliver said in a phone interview.
Gideon said that the incident, and other reports of confrontations today, illustrates the NYPD's inability to properly respond to demonstrations such as OWS:
“Punching someone in the face, running someone over with a scooter – obviously that's just out of control behavior, and it's this behavior that all too often happens with the NYPD. The Commissioner gives the officers who are involved in these assaults a pass nine times out of ten, so there's not an incentive for them to not do it.”
The Guild and the NYPD were not available for comment on the incident. At least four other people were arrested this morning by the NYPD as they tried to march on Wall Street.
Gideon also says that the decision to “postpone” the cleaning of Brookfield was (at least on paper) initiated by Brookfield, which in an email to Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway last night told the city that Brookfield was not going to undertake the cleanup at this time and that they no longer required the NYPD assistance they asked for yesterday. Gideon and his colleagues opposed Brookfield's moves, stating in a letter to the CEO of Brookfield that:
“Under the guise of cleaning the Park you are threatening fundamental constitutional rights. There is no basis in the law for your request for police intervention, nor have you cited any. Such police action without a prior court order would be unconstitutional and unlawful.”
The Liberty Park Legal Working Group asserts that OWS is more than capable of carrying out basic maintenance duties such as washing the pavement and trash collection.
Brookfield declined to comment on the Liberty Park Legal Working Group's statements. The firm issued the following statement this morning:
“At the request of a number of local political leaders, Brookfield Properties has deferred the cleaning of Zuccotti Park for a short period of time while an attempt is made to reach a resolution regarding the manner in which Zuccotti Park is being used by the protesters. Any such resolution will be respectful of the laws of the City of New York and will ensure that the park is used in a way that maintains the health, safety and viability of the surrounding residential and business community.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said “many elected officials” threatened Brookfield by saying, “If you don't stop this, we'll make your life more difficult,” reports The New York Post. Bloomberg again registered his low opinion of OWS and its supporters:
“If those elected officials would spend half as much time trying to promote [the] city and get jobs to come here, we'd go a long way to answering the concerns of the protests.”
“The longer this goes on, the worse it is for our economy.”
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a Democratic mayoral candidate and one of the politicians opposed to Brookfield's effort, said yesterday, “There is no need to rush into hasty, precipitous action when it comes to the peace and safety of our community.” He, and other elected officials in the city, have called upon the mayor, Brookfield and the NYPD to “simultaneously protect first amendment freedoms, enforce the law and preserve the quality of life for residents of Lower Manhattan.”
The mayor's office could not be reached for further comment at this time.
The announcement of the cleanup's postponement was made around 6:30AM (EST), following a tense (and drenching) night in the Park as people tried to catch some sleep while others planned nonviolent resistance tactics and worked to further clean up the park. The cleanup was set to begin at 7:00 AM, though the decision to postpone was apparently made around 11:30 PM the night before. Thousands of OWS demonstrators, including many union members, had assembled to resist and document the cleanup effort that Brookfield was supposed to carry out with NYPD assistance. Yesterday, OWS spokespeople told demonstrators in Zuccotti Park that “there is lots of room for different types of support depending on your arrestability level. We will need help moving things in the park, [and] we will also need support for the folks who may get arrested.”
Jubilant over their apparent victory, a group of at least 300 demonstrators successfully marched down Wall Street this morning, apparently catching the NYPD off guard. An earlier attempt this morning to march there saw a crowd of around 200 demonstrators attempt to circle around the iconic – and heavily guarded – “Charging Bull” sculpture onto Wall Street. Chanting, “Castrate the bull!” (the bull is seen as a symbol of Wall Street financial instructions; some leaflets handed out by OWS feature a dead bull lying on its back), the demonstrators were soon turned back from entering Wall Street by crash barriers and a large NYPD presence.
The NYPD then brought out more mounted officers and trucks carrying crash-control barriers, but still, this effort was not enough to prevent a successful march on Wall Street itself. An attempt to march on Wall Street last Wednesday night failed when police boxed it in from all sides as it tried to make its way down the entire length of the street.
Carrying brooms and mops aloft, beating drums and chanting, “N-Y-P-D, you work for me!” and “We are the 99 percent!” this morning's demonstrators took the NYPD by surprise. Both blue- and white-shirted officers (those wearing white shirts are police captains) ran down Broadway to catch up with the demonstrators, making at least two arrests along the way. Police and demonstrators sometimes stopped to exchange taunts and bark orders at each another as the march went on.
The demonstrators' front ranks consisted of self-proclaimed members of the “hacktivist” group Anonymous, many of them wearing bandanas and masks (either gas masks, or the iconic “V mask” popularized by the film “V for Vendetta”).
A large NYPD presence and a host of New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and National Lawyers Guild legal observers accompanied them. Bystanders, including many Wall Street workers, stopped to snap photos of the impromptu march (one older man in a black suit chanted under his breath, “Going to work! Going to work” as he tried to get ahead of the crowds). Many vehicles honked their horns at the demonstrators, though whether this was to show support for OWS or to vent frustration at them for snarling traffic is hard to say.
Andrew, from Stanford, Connecticut, was one of the demonstrators who marched onto Wall Street. Dressed as Marvel superhero Captain America, he says he first came to New York City to take in the sights, but then decided to camp at OWS after being inspired by their diversity and outspokenness:
“There's different factions here: you have communists, anarchists, hippies, even Ron Paul people, but for me, I don't think there's an established goal as there's wanting to start a dialogue and for people to feel safe expressing their anger.”
He said he chose Captain America as a costume because the Captain is as much “a figure of rebellion against the government as he is a figure of America and patriotism” (the Captain has sometimes been at odds with the US government in the comics).
Still, some demonstrators were less than optimistic about what would happen next in Zuccotti Park. As the Brookfield statement indicates, the decision to not pursue the planned cleaning today is, at best, a delay. Gideon said that despite their offer to mediate a compromise between Brookfield and OWS, Brookfield has not responded to their missives. Andrew noted. “All the press is here. They didn't want to have an ugly scene unfold in front of the entire world. They'll try to move in when the press isn't readily available.” Allan said that he figured the city would try something else in a few days to get OWS out of Zuccotti Park. And a member of the Local 3150 of the National Community College Union, worried that provocateurs might try to drag people out of the park to provoke confrontations, draw away media coverage and thin the occupiers' numbers.
The large turnout was the result of fear that there would be mass arrests by the NYPD, and the turnout demonstrated OWS's greatest strength (and some would argue, weakness), so far: the ability to unite disparate individuals to create a forum for their voices to be heard, independent of any political party.
“This is not a broken system; this is how capitalism works,” said Jose Martin, a 29-year-old demonstrator I interviewed just as OWS announced Brookfield's postponement. He says that he has not been able to find work for the past four years and, being uninsured, has US$8,500 in heath insurance debt. “Capitalism creates an underclass, nationally and globally,” he said, and OWS is standing up to capitalism “from Malaysia to Tanzania, to the small towns in Arkansas.” He noted that his views are at odds with other individuals in the movement, as unlike some people at OWS, Jose says he does not believe you can create good jobs and health care through capitalism.
One OWS demonstrators who would disagree with Jose is Allan Saly from the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100, which represents 38,000 transit workers. “It's all about economic opportunity and inequality and unions are a big force against inequality, and the government's trying to suppress unions. We're trying to strengthen union power and this is part of it,” he said. ” I think this is a uniquely American movement against tyranny and the concentration of wealth. I don't see this as a revolutionary movement, I see it as an egalitarian movement for opportunity.”
Responding to Jose, he said that what he and the Local 100 are advocating for is not “the overthrow of capitalism,” but the modification of it: “Capitalism with a human face,” Allan suggested. I caught up with two more TWU 100 members at OWS, Donald Yates and Earl Philips, who spoke on the link between the labor and civil rights struggles of the 1930s, '40s and '50s. “These youngsters,” Earl said, “are our members; kids; their future is jeopardized.” Earl says his grandparents fought in the labor struggles then and that today, people are waking up to the fact that “we need to start fighting again.”
“Whatever direction it goes in, we stand with these youngsters,” said Earl, and Donald concurred.