Monday, Mar 19, 2012, 7:52 am
Dozens Arrested at Occupy 6-Month Celebration, Reports of Police Brutality
Dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested over the weekend during protests marking the 6-month anniversary of the movement, and there have been widespread reports of police violence, some of which I witnessed first-hand.
Saturday's day of action kicked off with a couple hundred protesters gathering at Zuccotti Park before they marched around the financial district, at one point passing Wall Street's famous bull statue before the procession was forced to turn around.
"The streets are too narrow for you guys to march down here. You know this," one officer explained to a march "pacer," giving the official NYPD line for why protesters are not allowed near Wall Street.
When protesters returned to Zuccotti, tensions between police and activists exploded, and it all seemed to start with the actions of 1st Precinct Commanding Officer Edward Winski.
During the march, I'd seem him act unnecessarily aggressive toward protesters: shoving them out of his way even as they were trying to move back onto the sidewalk, for example. He was acting so hostile, I decided to take his picture.
Gothamist picked up on my report of Winski and linked to a couple stories about how Winski reached over police barricades to detain an OWS protester during a march last September, and in December arrested protester Justin Wedes as he passively filmed the police.
I was standing in the middle of Zuccotti when the chaos first erupted, and protesters standing along the sidewalk started shouting for media. Police quickly formed a ring around the small cluster of protesters being arrested, and being fairly short, I found it difficult to see what was happening, so I attempted to push my way past the officers.
"Ma'am, please step back," an officer said, gently pushing me backwards by my shoulders.
"I'm press," I explained, holding up my yellow, city-issued badge.
"I know," he replied flatly, repeating, "step back."
Explaining to the NYPD that press can't really do their jobs if we can't see what's going on doesn't seem to hold much weight with officers, so I moved and was eventually able to get a few shots of a young man, who was thrown to the sidewalk and handcuffed. Another young woman was bent across a car and handcuffed there (photo above).
The scuffle was definitely the most violent I'd seen since the fall when Occupy began.
While we watched police load the protesters – about five of them, at the time – into a NYPD police van, I spoke with a distraught young man who kept telling anyone who would listen that "this all began" because of him.
He'd been trying to get a photo with one of the police officers, and suddenly, "this guy, Winski, grabbed me by the arm and said, 'What? You think I'm fucking stupid?' and this other officer, Murray, shoves me backwards." The young man claims, to the other Occupiers, it looked like he was being arrested, which caused a panic, and protesters started rushing forward. That's when he alleges the arrests started.
It's difficult to trace the lineage of these things, but what we do know is that police responded with brute force later that night after the protest started to dwindle following an apex of about a thousand protesters flooding Zuccotti.
Dozens of demonstrators sat down and linked arms at night and police started arresting people again, leading them one by one from the park in handcuffs. By 11:30 p.m., officers had massed on Broadway and a commander announced the park was closed, and police and private security guards began placing a ring of metal barricades around the park's perimeter, once again locking visitors out of the park.
Colin Moynihan reports a woman appeared to suffer a seizure while in handcuffs and "flopped on the ground" as bystanders shouted for police to remove the cuffs and provide medication attention. The woman laid on the ground "for several minutes," as onlookers made "increasingly agonized demands" until an ambulance finally arrived and the woman was placed inside.
The woman is reportedly Cecily McMillan, an OWS activist once profiled in Rolling Stone. Jeff Sharlet wrote about McMillan back in November 2011 for an article about the Occupy movement (photo via Facebook):
She’s a former cheerleader; she used to want to be a politician. She says her studies and her work – she’s also a nanny – prevent her from sleeping in the park. But she’s not afraid to put her body on the line. She was arrested after she charged Wall Street three times, a “direct action” that even some veteran anarchists – militant and masked – considered wildly courageous, if foolish. A cop thought so, too, blasted her with pepper spray, knocked her down, stepped on her head and snarled at her, “Shut up. You get what you deserve, cunt bitch.”
Footage of McMillan being assaulted, during which her ribs reportedly break, and arrested before she seizures:
Moynihan reports by 12:20 a.m., a line of officers pushed the remaining protesters, forcing them south on Broadway, at times "swinging batons and shoving people to the ground."
Kobi Skolnick, 30, said that officers pushed him in several directions and that as he tried to walk away, he was struck from behind in the neck. “One of the police ran and hit me with a baton,” he said.
The Guardian's Ryan Devereaux reported numerous instances of police violence, at one point tweeting a photo of a smashed window with the caption, "Just saw police slam a protester into this door, 55 East 10th. This was the result. Arrestee was punched in the face." (photo by Devereaux)
Video of police smashing the OWS medic's head into the door (at 3:50):
"A sergeant threw a young woman to the ground and protesters became enraged. Throwing debris in the street," Devereaux tweeted, adding the officer who assaulted the woman was the same sergeant who punched his cameraman and told Devereaux he "didn't give a fuck" about his press pass back in December.
"My neck is red, my press pass was ripped. I was doing nothing but standing on the sidewalk doing my job," he wrote at the time.
Shawn Carrie, an OWS protester, told Devereaux he sustained serious injuries from police, including a broken thumb and fractured jaw, though a doctor had not confirmed that. Carrie was one of three protesters Devereaux interviewed, who claimed they had asked for legal representation with arrested and were denied. Carrie also claimed he hadn't eaten in 12 hours.
More raw footage of arrests. Officer Winski can be seen using a bullhorn:
"Amazingly – or maybe not so – NYPD are now using taxis too," Slaughter tweeted.
Interestingly, the Village Voice's Nick Pinto reported that Judge Klott, who set bail for Occupiers, considered whether defendants refused iris scans. This is fairly typical treatment of Occupy arrestees lately. I've spoken with several protesters who allege they were promised speedier processing by police if they agreed to the scans, and if they refused, were punished with much longer holding times.
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.