The occupation of Zuccotti Park (a.k.a. Liberty Plaza Park) in Lower Manhattan, New York City, continues today, after a Saturday marked by a crackdown from the New York Police Department. It is estimated that around 80 people were arrested during a breakaway protest march, and after handing out an “eviction notice” the NYPD surrounded the park that has been used as a campground and staging area. [An earlier version of this blog post stated in error that arrests took place “during an apparent attempt to ‘evict’ ” the park.] The “Occupy Wall Street” protest began on Saturday, September 17, and was originally prompted by a call from Adbusters, as described by Patrick Glennon here, for people to “flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months.” The nature of yesterday’s police action has led to widespread condemnation of alleged police brutality, and it’s hard not to remove the word “alleged” upon viewing the photos and video footage that has emerged — which has been enough to make the not-always-political Gawker take note and use the headline “Cops Tackle, Mace Wall St. Protesters for No Obvious Reason.” James Fallows at The Atlantic has posted the slowed down and annotated version of one particularly disturbing video. His description is chilling:He walks up; unprovoked he shoots Mace or pepper spray straight into the eyes of women held inside a police enclosure; he turns and walks away quickly (as they scream, wail, and fall to the ground clawing at their eyes) in a way familiar from hitmen in crime movies; and he discreetly reholsters his spray can.Those who attend protests that challenge corporate power and unrestrained capitalism in the U.S. and Europe may have become used by now to a police response that is both excessive and untargeted, whether one is an active participant, an observer or merely a passerby. (I myself was among those coralled by the Metropolitan Police in London’s Oxford Circus on May Day 2001, and can attest first-hand to the fact that the 3,000 people kept there without access to food, water or toilets for seven hours included at least one pair of bemused and terrified tourists from continental Europe who had a plane to catch and who begged in vain to be let past the line of riot police shields.) But from all accounts so far, it appears that yesterday the NYPD, presumably under the edict of Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg, took the policing of such protests to new and violent levels.
At Waging Nonviolence, Nathan Schneider points out that the media coverage of the police’s actions focuses on a sensationalistic treatment of violence rather than what the protests are about:In an article that recounts as many gory details as will fit, the Daily News devotes only two short paragraphs to what the protest is actually about and what protesters have been doing all this time: “attempting to draw attention to what they believe is a dysfunctional economic system that unfairly benefits corporations and the mega-rich.” True, but too little. The real story for the Daily News, it seems, is not this unusual kind of protest, or the political situation which it opposes, but the chance to have the word “busted” on the cover next to the cleavage of a woman crying out in pain.Schneider’s piece is well-worth reading in full, as is his piece at Truthout from Friday, in which he provides a critique of media coverage and sets the record straight about what how Occupy Wall Street evolved.Some reporters come to Liberty Plaza looking for Adbusters staff, or US Day of Rage members, or conspiratorial Obama supporters, or hackers from Anonymous. They’re briefly disappointed to find none of the above. Instead, it’s a bunch of people — from round-the-clock revolutionaries, to curious tourists, to retirees, to zealous students — spending most of their time in long meetings about supplying food, conducting marches, dividing up the plaza’s limited space and what exactly they’re there to do and why. And that’s the point. More than demanding any particular policy proposal, the occupation is reminding Wall Street what real democracy looks like: a discussion among people, not a contest of money.However, despite Schneider’s critcisim of the internet’s role in spreading misinformation, it remains the case that, as with past protest actions and just about any activity of real significance that the mainstream media ignores or distorts, some of the best ways to keep up to date on Occupy Wall Street are the #occupywallstreet and #occupywallst Twitter hashtags, and livestreaming video. See also Kevin Gosztola who has been live-blogging for FireDogLake from the protests, and the “official” Occupy Wall Street website. Update, Monday September 26: For more strong coverage of Occupy Wall Street and the NYPD reaction, check out J. A. Myerson’s eyewitness account at Alternet, complete with links to more damning video:Filmmaker Marisa Holmes was recently in Egypt, documenting the revolutionary movement there in its attempt to transform the ouster of Hosni Mubarak into a democratic society. Inspired by the movement there, she became involved with the group organizing the Wall Street occupation, hoping to emulate the Egyptians’ success in mobilizing the public to wrest their country from the brutal forces in power. Video shows police abusing her, confiscating her belongings and falsely alleging that she had resisted arrest.Meanwhile, Allison Kilkenny provides a counterpoint to an “abysmal” New York Times story, over at The Nation. She quotes Matthew Prowless, “a 40-year-old father of two, who attended the Occupy Wall Street protest, and who is as unassuming of a man as I’ve ever seen,” who gave the following explanation of the underlying reasons for the protest:“My home has been seized, I’m unemployed, there’s no job prospects on the horizon. I have two children and I don’t see a future for them. This is the only way I see to effect change. This isn’t a progressive issue. This is an American issue. We’re here to take our country back from the corporations.”Thanks also to Kilkenny for pointing to this first-hand account at the Boston Review by Jeanne Mansfield, one of the women maced in the video mentioned above. Mansfield draws an interesting line between the behavior of the blue-shirted NYPD officers who were not “too forceful” and those in white shirts who were “completely undiscerning in their aggression.” According to her account, it was “A white-shirt, now known to be NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna” who carried out the mace attack, to the disbelief of some of his blue-shirted co-workers:[E]veryone stares in shock and horror at the two girls on the ground and two more doubled over screaming as their eyes ooze. In the street I shout for water to rinse my eyes or give to the girls on the ground. But no one responds. One of the blue-shirts, tall and bald, stares in disbelief and says, “I can’t believe he just fuckin’ maced her.”
Joe Macaré is a writer, editor and development and communications professional, originally hailing from the UK and now residing in Chicago. His writing has appeared at In These Times, TruthOut, AlterNet, Dazed and Confused, The Times, Plan B and Stylus. He has appeared on WBEZ radio and Chicago Newsroom to discuss his extensive coverage of the Occupy Chicago movement.