Web Only / Features » November 15, 2011
OWS Protesters Regroup After Early Morning Raid on Liberty Park
Under cover of darkness and a media blackout, NYPD officers demolished Occupy Wall Street’s camp.
A "sneak attack," it would seem, was determined to be the best option available to the multibillionaire media mogul mayor.
Originally posted at TruthOut.
In the smallest hours of the morning, with no warning or apparent provocation, hundreds of New York Police Department (NYPD) officers, some from the department’s counterterrorism unit, many in riot gear, demolished thousands of dollars of private property, including a 5,000-volume library; beat and arrested a large number of peacefully protesting citizens, including credentialed journalists and democratically-elected public officials; and in the process, violated not just the First and Fourth Amendments to the US Constitution, a document they are sworn to uphold, but also a court injunction. This is apparently what happens when a Nobel Peace Prize-winning constitutional scholar sits in the White House.
Warning came from the Twitter feed of ?uestlove, drummer for The Roots, who cautioned Occupy Wall Street that, while driving downtown, he had counted 1,000 police officers in riot gear “bout to pull a sneak attack.” The last eviction attempt, in which Mayor Bloomberg deployed the militarized police force at his command to do the bidding of a private corporation (and one on whose board his long-time live-in girlfriend, Diana Taylor, sits), was thwarted by thousands of union members and activists who flooded Liberty Plaza Park, linking arms in a successful attempt to make seizure of the park politically unfeasible. A “sneak attack,” it would seem, was determined to be the best option available to the multibillionaire media mogul mayor. The attack was to be so sneaky that, according to Anthony DeRosa, the NYPD instructed CBS News to leave the airspace above Liberty Plaza Park.
This took place two days before the occupation turned two months old, on which occasion a large-scale rally, a march and civil disobedience actions were already long in the planning. The rationale police gave occupiers by way of megaphone (an instrument the usage of which the protesters are denied) was the fire hazard posed by the park’s many tents. Why a hazard so urgent that it required immediate action, including a four-block perimeter of barricades, occurred to authorities at 1AM went unexplained. So did the necessity of, according to Democracy Now!’s Ryan Devereaux, “literally ripping and tearing” down the “tent intended to make women feel safer” and the tear gassing of the kitchen area. Not only won’t cops protect women from rape, not only won’t the city provide housing and food to the homeless, not only won’t the very wealthy devote free health care to New York City’s sick, they wouldn’t even allow Wall Street occupiers to do so, either.
Tens of thousands watched the live stream as it broadcast protesters scrambling to comply with the instructions of police officers, who declined to issue a timeframe, electing instead to warn and immediately invade. It showed hundreds of people attempting to get to the park and protect it from usurpation and denied access, not just streets and subway stations shut down, but even, according to NBC, instructions to the area’s doormen to lock up and prevent neighborhood dwellers from leaving their buildings. Multiple sources, including Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore, reported that the barricades were impenetrable even to media.
The country has recently spent lots of time hemming and hawing about protesters in Oakland vandalizing property, advocating violence and making chaos in the streets. The local elected officials, including Rep. Jerry Nadler and State Sen. Sheldon Silver, have recently written letters fretting about the drumming in the park. Neoconservative commentators routinely condemn other countries for jailing dissidents and journalists. It will be interesting to note their responses to Mayor Bloomberg’s actions.
The treatment disparity was not lost on observers, many of whom wondered why Lloyd Blankfein (head of Goldman Sachs) and Jamie Dimon (head of JPMorgan Chase & Co.), after all the fraudulence and deceit they had perpetrated, had never been subject to this sort of treatment, their property seized and destroyed. This type of handling seems to be reserved for the social underclass and civilians engaging in dissent. And the authorities sent people to do it who they consider pawns: public workers of the Police and Sanitation Departments, whose pensions and jobs are threatened by austerity budgets and who are ordered to ignore their oaths to keep their jobs.
Protesters, who were permitted to spend the night in Judson Memorial Church, have regrouped at three sites: a park north of the square owned by Trinity Church, which is sympathetic to the occupation; Foley Square, site of the Supreme Court of New York, where a press conference led by unions and community organizations in support of Occupy Wall Street occurred at 2 PM; and the perimeter around Liberty Plaza Park.
The 2PM press conference at Foley Square included many union leaders and elected officials, including City Council members, Sate Senators, City Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill DiBlasio all stated their condemnation of Mayor Bloomberg’s tactics and called for solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, especially around the day of action on Thursday. They also repeatedly invoked their friend Ydanis Rodruiguez, the City Councilman who led the recent 11-mile march from Washington Heights to Liberty Plaza Park. Rodriguez was beaten by police, his head made to bleed, and held for more than 12 hours without arraignment and not permitted to meet with his lawyers. The councilman is free now. During this press conference, Scott Stringer, the Manhattan Borough President, alleged that 10 journalists had been arrested in the violent raid.
The judge reversed the injunction from earlier in the day, allowing now that Brookfield, the corporation that sets the rules for the park, gets to set the rules, though there was some discrepancy about what the implications of the ruling were. The protesters’ lawyers, in a press conference after the ruling came down, indicated that tents would be prohibited but that nothing in the ruling prohibited sleeping bags or staying in the park overnight. Back down at the park, however, protesters were made to stand on the perimeter of the park, then empty except for police clad in riot gear, for another hour before finally being let in to the park, instructed by police that sleeping bags, staying over and even lying down would not be permitted under the new regime. Lawyers for the occupation expressed their intention to appeal the judge’s ruling.
A protester, before being allowed back in, was overheard remarking, “The cops have occupied Zuccotti Park. We’re just trying to figure out what their demands are.”
Thursday will be a national day of action. Expect it to be huge.
J.A. Myerson is an independent journalist who blogs at jamyerson.com and who currently works with the Media and Labor Outreach Committees at Occupy Wall Street.