posted 2012-05-13 01:15:09

Wildcat March Draws Hundreds of Black-Clad Protesters to SoHo and Chinatown

Top NYPD brass and plain-clothed officers shutdown march

John Bolger

News Editor

All photographs by John Bolger unless otherwise noted.

Wildcat march passes Bowery on Hester Street.
Approximately 300 protesters gathered at Sara D. Roosevelt Park on East Houston Street in the early afternoon on May 1 to participate in the unpermitted “Wildcat” march. Many of the protesters were dressed in black and wore bandannas or masks to cover their faces during the Wildcat march. This march hosted some of May Day’s more disruptive and “militant” demonstrations as it snaked through SoHo and Chinatown. The NYPD assembled en masse outside the park in preparation for a potentially violent demonstration.

At roughly 1 p.m., the scheduled start time of the march, NYPD officers entered the park to confiscate three metal bars concealed in a black banner that read “kill capitalism save the world.” The three bandanna-wearing protesters who held the banner were not arrested at that time and NYPD officers resumed their positions along the park’s perimeter. Tensions rose as more people arrived to the park and a group of protesters on bicycles, the “Bike Bloc,” rode circles up and down Houston Street with scooter-mounted NYPD officers following them.

At approximately 1:30 p.m. protesters attempted to cross Forsyth Street at Houston Street and were promptly stopped by the NYPD. A brief scuffle broke out resulting in three arrests as the kill- capitalism banner was confiscated. The arrestees were brought to one of many unmarked police vans parked east of the park on Huston Street.

The protesters, still standing inside Sara D. Roosevelt Park, responded to the NYPD’s quick crackdown on the attempted start of the march by reversing direction, running south into the park, leaving the NYPD confused as to how to respond as the march continued into the streets of SoHo and Chinatown, fully blocking traffic for about half an hour before the NYPD was able to control the march.

The presence of top-ranking NYPD officials indicated the seriousness with which the NYPD regarded the Wildcat march. Chief of Department Joseph Esposito – the NYPD’s highest ranking uniformed officer – was present as well as Inspector Delayne Hurley, commanding officer of the NYPD’s Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU). TARU has dealt with filming Occupy protesters with high-definition 12.1 megapixel cameras as part of the NYPD’s evidence collection program. A number of other police chiefs were present.

Officers from the Disorder Control Unit, the Organized Crime Control Bureau, TARU, the Patrol Services Bureau and task forces from the Manhattan South and Staten Island patrol boroughs were also present. At that time, better publicized and more heavily attended events were taking place at Bryant Park, Union Square and Madison Square Park.

As the protesters made their way deeper into the park, they took Forsyth Street and continued south until they reached Grand Street, where they proceeded to cross the park and continued south on Bowery. On Bowery an unmarked police SUV blocked the march from continuing south, and protesters turned west onto Hester Street and continued to Centre Street. Another unmarked SUV and police officers on foot diverted the march north, where it turned west onto Grand Street and continued south on Lafayette Street onto Canal Street.

As the Wildcat march made its way through Chinatown, many onlookers honked their car horns in approval and made thumbs-up gestures through their windows. Small groups of protesters took destructive action, knocking over trash bins and leaving graffiti on ATM machines. One protester hit the store-front window of a bank with a heavy object, failing to break the window. Some marchers lightly rapped on the sides of cars as they passed. A white banner that read “general strike kick it till it breaks...” was carried against traffic over stopped cars, obscuring windshields. One protester near the banner ran across the hood of a taxicab without causing damage.

The march turned north onto Broadway from Canal Street and regrouped with a portion of the march that had splintered off on Grand Street as the police began to catch their bearings; the march was about to meet a swift end.

An NYPD van proceeded south on Broadway maneuvering around the east-side of the march and continuing until it was directly behind the demonstration. When the march reached Spring Street, protesters with their faces concealed dragged NYPD barricades onto Broadway and threw them onto the street. One of the barricade-throwing protesters, wearing a black ski mask, began to run up Broadway away from police on foot who quickly recovered the barricades behind him.

As the protester ran, a plain-clothed sergeant wearing a Mets hat and glasses, who seemed to have been in the march, grabbed him. Another plain-clothed officer appeared and assisted the sergeant. Others from the march quickly came to the first protester’s aide and a tug-of-war ensued up Broadway over the masked protester. Eventually the scuffle reached the close quarters between two stopped vehicles and the plain-clothed sergeant was overwhelmed. The sergeant was pinned against a white van and hit in the face, knocking his glasses off of his head. The masked protester escaped capture and eluded arrest for the duration of the confrontation at Spring Street.

Directly after the masked protester’s escape, two more plain-clothed officers as well as uniformed officers from the Staten Island Task Force appeared to aid the sergeant and continued up Broadway to exercise further crowd control.

A little further up the street a protester wearing a bandanna, standing behind a CitySights double-decker tour bus, was grabbed by a plain-clothed police officer wearing a green and white John Deere hat. Another face-concealed protester attempted to grab the officer away, and the first protester managed to escape briefly, turning around the corner of the bus. Awaiting him on the other side of the bus was the Staten Island Task Force which put a quick end to his escape attempt.

Another plain-clothed officer tackled a female protester who opened one of the bus’s side panels and tampered with some of its electrical components, disabling the bus. She managed to get off the ground and run onto the sidewalk before three uniformed NYPD officers brought her back to the floor, pressing her face to the concrete. TARU arrived shortly afterward to assist in crowd dispersal as one journalist was thrusted into the side of a pole. Three arrests occurred at Broadway and Spring Street.

Many tourists on the CitySights bus left the cabin to watch the action unfold on the street. Within 15 minutes service to the tour bus was restored. One passenger from the upper level of the bus said to the arrestees who were being held below, “anarchy is not the way,” as she shook her head.

A much thinner and fragmented Wildcat march continued north on Broadway and made its way to Washington Square Park where the Wildcat march was convening prior to leaving for Union Square where a permitted union rally was being held.

According to an advisory from the NYPD Counter Terrorism Bureau released April 27, which listed the march at the top of its six page report on May Day, the Wildcat march was expected to employ “Black Bloc” tactics as well as to provoke violent confrontations with police. The advisory, citing an alleged email announcement from a Wildcat organizer, invoked images of the 2009 G-20 protests in Pittsburgh, where “a group of protesters using Black Bloc tactics clashed with local law enforcement during an unpermitted rally using barricades, rocks, and trash bins.”

At Sara D. Roosevelt Park on E. Houston Street protesters hold a banner which conceals three metal bars. NYPD officers confiscated the metal bars prior to the "Wildcat" march.  Photograph by Jenady Garshofsky.
Two protesters arrested at the start of the Wildcat march, triggering a reverse in march direction as crowd takes off unfettered into SoHo and China Town.
Wildcat march passes Mott Street.
Wildcat Protester runs from NYPD officers with barricades up Broadway.
Plain clothed NYPD sergeant attempts to stop marcher as protesters pull to release him. The marcher eventually escapes.