posted 2011-11-18 13:47:14

Police and Occupy Protesters Clash Over the Weekend

Tension Between Protesters and Police Escalates as Occupy Wall Street Clears First Month


Shortly after the cancelled eviction of Zucotti Park early last Friday morning, hundreds of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators broke into a spontaneous march down Broadway, culminating in 15 arrests and many more beatings as protesters managed for the first time to break ground on Wall Street itself.

The march had reached Bowling Green by the time police had caught up. A band of police riding motorized scooters charged straight for the back of the crowd and collided with it. Protesters slowed the progress of the police to inches per second, using their bodies to impede the scooters. Police warned the crowd that failure to stay on the sidewalks was grounds for arrest. An eruption broke out on Broadway resulting in front-line protesters being beaten by police with batons, with some being thrown to the ground and arrested.

The march continued undeterred despite the police violence, off Broadway and into the tight alleys of the Financial District. Police followed in pursuit.

In the close quarters of the Financial District, police behavior became more organized. Police on scooter continued to force their vehicles through the heart of the crowd, like a strange running of the bulls, as they met police on foot who confronted the crowd head on.  As the march reached Wall Street, police on horseback prevented protesters from entering the vicinity of the New York Stock Exchange building and a police van blocked Nassau Street, effectively funnelling the march down Wall Street away from the exchange and into another police blockade.

The van on Nassau Street backed up into Wall Street, blocking exit and trapping protesters between two walls of police. After a short time however, the van retreated and shortly thereafter the blockade at the head of the march opened partially, directing the flow of protesters north. The march continued with police scooters pursuing protesters back to Zucotti Park, clashes and arrests occurring the whole way.

Herman Garcia, 26, a canvasser for the Working Family Party, was hit with a baton by police in last Friday’s march. “There was a person to the right of me who pushed me and a couple directly in front of me who wouldn't move, so I couldn't move,” he said. “The lieutenant tried to hit the couple, but missed and hit me. I fell down and three people next to me got arrested. My shoulder popped out and I was screaming.”

The march had broken out in celebration of the cancellation of a park cleaning order which would have involved removing the occupiers from Zucotti Park the morning of Friday Oct. 14. Roughly 4,000 protesters arrived at the park in preparation for the 7 a.m. eviction.

“The marches were incredibly disorganized,” Garcia said. “There was a great spirit at the park when people found out they weren't kicking us out ... but then people didn't know what to do and it became chaotic.”

Ali Fuering, 20, a student at City College, said after the march that she thought the police had mishandled the protest. “They were trying to send us a message through their force, but it was too intense for the situation,” she said. “We weren't doing anything wrong, everyone has been peaceful.”

After Friday morning the day was relatively peaceful, as if in preparation for the task at hand for the following day: what the Occupy movement called the “Global Day of Action.”

A group of three to five thousand marched to Times Square from Washington Square Park up Sixth Avenue under a heavy police escort which confined demonstrators to the sidewalks.  The crowd arrived to Times Square at 46th Street and Seventh Avenue by 5:30 p.m., meeting a group of many thousands that had already arrived.  The estimated size of the crowd was 10 to 15 thousand.

Traffic was blocked along 46th Street by protesters who had successfully broken onto the street during the final stretch of the march to Times Square, but the crowd failed to break the police strong hold at Seventh Avenue.  At the intersection of the two streets, tension was high between protesters and police as they clashed over the barricade lines on and off for hours.

There were periods of peace followed by attempts by the police to push the resisting crowd back with metal barricades.  During a skirmish, the barricade was broken creating a hectic showdown between protesters and police who were fending off the crowd and attempting to fix the barricade at once.  At times, calmer officers held back more aggressive officers who tried to advance deeper into the crowd.  It was unclear which side broke the barricade.

Almost immediately after the barricade broke, 18 officers arrived on horseback and traffic was closed to Seventh Avenue.  Three horses were sent to the break and entered the crowd briefly.  No one was seriously injured by the horses and police quickly filled the freed space and repaired the barricade.  The three horses retreated from the crowd as the barricade was erected however the horse-mounted officers remained in formation on Seventh Avenue for the remainder of the protest.

Tension simmered at the contested intersection although there were no further eruptions between police and the crowds.  By 8:45 that night, traffic was restored to 46th Street and Seventh Avenue and the crowds began to disperse.

“The message is, we have great power and we're growing,” said Paul Bloom, 64, who had also participated in ant-war rallies in the '60s.  “The livelihood of the earth is in danger, we let things run on autopilot for too long and it's time to take control.”

Wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and identifying only as Jose, a protester holding a sign at the intersection when the barricade broke said he was shocked and disgusted by the police's display of power and insisted that the Occupy movement was strictly peaceful.  Despite his contempt for the police standoffs, he was keen to indicate that he held no animosity towards the common cop, only the “white shirts … I blame the chain of command, I blame the people on top, I don't blame the foot soldiers, the blue shirts.”

Jose lingered around Times Square before leaving to Washington Square Park, where a meeting of the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly was to take place.

With the Occupy Wall Street movement's first month behind them, it is impossible to predict what will happen in the coming weeks.  With the recent surge in support – both participatory and financial – as well as the heightened elevation the movement is reaching worldwide, Occupy Wall is starting to gain traction.  At this pivotal moment, Occupy organizers, now face the challenge of how to organize themselves against the government as well as the NYPD.

John Bolger

News and Features Editor

Jenady Garshofsky

Additional Reporting