Tuesday, Nov 15, 2011, 2:40 am
NYPD Destroys Occupy Wall Street Camp
Updated 1:05 p.m.
Ever since protesters first took Liberty Square back in September, they've been discussing when Mayor Bloomberg would make the move to raid the camp. The general consensus has always been the mayor would dispatch the NYPD in the middle of the night, and in the early hours of Tuesday, that prediction proved correct.
Mere days away from the two-month anniversary of the occupation, the NYPD lowered the hammer and completely dismantled the encampment, throwing away every scrap of Occupy gear, including around five thousand books from the group's library, and arresting around 200 people (Note: this estimate has been updated from an earlier, lower figure).
Hundreds of officers cleared the square under the guise of a "clear and restore" campaign that would eventually permit the demonstrators to return after the cleaning. Occupiers obviously had a difficult time swallowing that line as they watched the camping equipment that had become their homes over the past two months heaped into the back of sanitation trucks. Some protesters chained themselves to trees in Liberty, and some early reports indicate the NYPD cut down the trees in order to remove the demonstrators.
The mayor’s office sent out a message on Twitter at 1:19 a.m. saying: “Occupants of Zuccotti should temporarily leave and remove tents and tarps. Protesters can return after the park is cleared.” Fliers handed out by the police at the private park on behalf of the park’s owner, Brookfield Properties, and the city, spelled out the same message.
In the past, Bloomberg has adopted the strategy of bowing to the demands of Brookfield, which decided to postpone at earlier scheduled cleaning of the park back in mid-October after thousands of protesters arrived at the park to defends its borders. It was perhaps his submissiveness to the hierarchy of private ownership or maybe the fact that Bloomberg's live-in girlfriend sits on the board of Brookfield Properties that kept the mayor passive these past couple of months when it came time to make decisions regarding the occupation's fate.
"Cleaning" is the city's favorite excuse to close down the protest, though the attempt at an innocent facade by the NYPD became all the more absurd when numerous reports began to trickle in of press being bullied and intimidated into leaving the area. Rosie Gray, a writer for the Village Voice tried to beg her way into gaining access to the plaza, which the police quickly quarantined during the raid, preventing media from seeing what was happening. "I'm press!" Gray reportedly exclaimed, to which a female officer replied, "not tonight."
Josh Harkinson from Mother Jones reported being "violently shoved" by police as he tried to photograph a man being placed into an ambulance on a stretcher, in addition to being removed from the park's area even when he told police he is press and has the "right to be here and observe what is going on." As the officer dragged him from the square, he told Harkinson if he stayed in the park he "could get hurt."
Additionally, Jared Malsin, the former chief English editor of Maan News Agency, was arrested alongside City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who was reportedly bleeding from the head by the time he was arrested.
The obstruction of witnesses seemed a high priority for the NYPD, who in addition to blocking media access, also prevented residents near the park from leaving their building, and told doormen to "lock up," according to NBC New York reporter Melissa Russo.
Hero Vincent, one of the more well-known OWS protesters, tweeted that he was pepper sprayed and chased by officers, one of many such reports of pepper-spraying and abuse by police that began to materialise throughout the night. Numerous videos and tweets emerged documenting overtly "brutal" behavior from the police, including the use of pepper spray.
Jesse Myerson, another well-known OWS protester, tweeted a photo of police transporting a sound cannon, though it's unclear if the police ever ended up using it. Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) are powerful devices that can cause permanent hearing damage.
When Liberty was forced to disband, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in scattered protests that ultimately culminated at Foley Square and Broadway and Pine. Down on Broadway, two NYPD buses were loaded with protesters, and as the buses pulled away, the remaining protesters on the street cheered and waved in solidarity.
The search for OWS's new home began almost immediately, with a General Assembly at Foley Square sending out the call to protesters at Broadway and Pine to meet them there. As of this report, police vans have arrived at Foley Square now at 5:33 a.m. and police are asking people to leave.
Bloomberg's decision to destroy the OWS camp may ultimately backfire on the mayor. The movement is at its most powerful when its members are unified and battling a common enemy, and tonight that enemy became the mayor's office. Bloomberg may come to miss that uneasy truce he had going with the Liberty Square occupiers.
Update: More reports of a media blackout (there's going to be a lot of these updates, I predict): Newyorkist reports that in addition to Rosie Gray being harassed by police, Christopher Robbins, a reporter at Gothamist, and Julie Shapiro, DNAinfo.com, were all forced to leave Liberty Square when they were attempting to cover the raid.
Like in most cities, it's extremely difficult to get official press passes if you're a journalist who doesn't work for a major establishment publication. This is especially true for bloggers. I had to fight tooth and nail for mine. Without that official yellow badge, police can pretty much treat non-mainstream journalists however they want, including ejecting them from the midst of an unfolding story they need to be covering.
Yet more media blackout reports: Andrew Katz, a digital journalist at Columbia Journalism School, told police, "I'm press," to which an officer replied, "don't care." Anthony De Rosa, Social Media Editor at Reuters, spoke with the CBS news desk, who were told to "leave the airspace above Zuccotti" by the NYPD.
Laurie Penny describes the square as having been under "total lockdown," and the Editor-in-chief at Byline Beat & 'Connoisseur reported almost being arrested twice by police despite presenting his press badge. Additionally, Lindsey Christ, an education reporter at NY1 News, tweeted reporters and photographers were thrown to the ground and "pushed to the wall if they get in front of the wrong officer."
And lest anyone think it's mostly just lowly bloggers being shut out of the OWS raid coverage, Democracy Now's Ryan Devereaux reports police ripped the press pass off an NBC news anchor (ripping passes off press is a familiar police intimidation tactic to anyone who has been covering the OWS movement,) and the New York Observer tweeted "here with credentialed photogs from NYT, WSJ and Reuters they're also being barred from #occupywallstreet."
10:04 a.m.: Footage of police brutality during OWS raid. Video by John Knefel.
AP reports that The National Lawyers Guild says it has obtained a court order that allows Occupy Wall St. protesters to return with tents to a New York City park, and a large group of protesters is currently marching back to Liberty Sq.
Meanwhile, NYT reports protesters obtained a temporary restraining order barring the city and the park’s private landlord from evicting protesters or removing their belongings. Justice Lucy Billings of State Supreme Court in Manhattan scheduled a hearing for today at 11:30 a.m..
1:05 p.m.: My fellow host, Jamie Kilstein, and I discuss the OWS raid on Citizen Radio today.
Allison Kilkenny is an In These Times Staff Writer and the co-host of the critically acclaimed radio show Citizen Radio. Her blog for In These Times, Uprising, focuses on efforts around the world to address the global economic crisis.