Occupy Wall Street Gains Momentum, Controversy
In the most dramatic scenes from the Occupy Wall Street protests to date, police arrested over 700 demonstrators attempting to cross the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1. The mass arrests added further controversy to the police response against the protests, having occurred one week after roughly 80 demonstrators were arrested during a march to Union Square on September 24.
The police took action after as many as 2,000 protesters made their way over the Brooklyn Bridge. Many strayed from the pedestrian walkway and onto the bridge’s vehicle roadway, directly blocking traffic. At some point, the NYPD blocked off the roadway from both sides of the bridge, rounding up hundreds into police buses.
Plymouth State University students Garrett Zuorski and Greg Tucker, both 22, were on the bridge’s pedestrian walkway during the incident and witnessed the police action against those on the roadway.
“I looked back and saw a big line of cops coming up from behind. Ahead, there were cops on the other side of the bridge as well,” Zuorski said. “For a while, [the police] tried to get people to funnel out [off the bridge], one at a time, but there were thousands of people and there was no way that was going to happen.”
“So they closed off everybody, trapped them on the bridge,” Zuorski added. “The cops would go around and sometimes rip people away and throw them to the ground. They would literally carry them away, not even under their own power.”
Tucker was also dismayed by the NYPD’s tactics.
“The conditions [demonstrators] were arrested under were pretty ridiculous,” Tucker said. “They would literally pick them up, one by one, and some people would somewhat resist because they weren’t being charged with anything.”
While protesters have pointed to YouTube videos showing that the police may have directed them onto the roadway, the NYPD released their own video of officers warning demonstrators that their actions would lead to arrest.
The mass arrest follows a similar, albeit smaller incident on September 24, when protesters marched from their main camp in Zuccotti Park in the Financial District to Union Square. Over 80 people were arrested in scenes that have drawn widespread public criticism of the NYPD.
Specifically, a video of three women being kettled by NYPD and then pepper-sprayed in the face, among other videos of police confronting protesters, has surfaced on YouTube. One of the women was Parsons photography student Kelly Schomberg, who declined to comment.
Kettling is a technique in which police surround a small group of individuals within a larger protest in orange netting. Heidi Boghasian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, told *The Free Press* the use of the kettling tactic was “unfortunate,” saying the demonstrators “were not doing anything unlawful.” The National Lawyers Guild has stationed several legal observers in Zuccotti Park since the demonstration began, and is offering legal advice to the demonstrators.
The NYPD defended its actions. Chief NYPD spokesperson Paul J. Browne told *The New York Times* on September 25 that pepper spray had been used “appropriately.”
Since September 17, hundreds of people have set up camp in Zuccotti Park, on the corner of Broadway and Liberty Street, to protest social and economic inequality and an ever-widening wealth gap in the United States, among a variety of other issues.
The demonstrators are a leaderless and loosely defined group of people angry at the moneyed ties between the finance industry, major corporations and the U.S. government. They march to Wall Street twice daily at the opening and closing bells, carrying homemade signs and chanting in unison.
Eugene Lang College students Amanda Clarke, 21, and Sid Guarang, 22, have been participating in the demonstrations since they began.
Clarke, a literary studies major and member of The New School’s Feminist Collective, joined the occupation on its first day. One of 82 protesters arrested as they marched to Union Square on September 24, she was charged with disorderly conduct near 12th Street and Fifth Avenue and detained at police headquarters for “a total of 11 hours.”
Clarke claimed that she was targeted for arrest because she was one of the “people that were assisting in moving the march along,” adding that the “mass arrest... was obviously to try to deter us.”
She said she chose to participate in the occupation because she fears for her own future.
“I’m graduating in less than a year, and the prospect of getting a job that covers student loans is slim to none,” she said.
Guarang, an economics major, has been involved since the action’s planning stages. Like Clarke, he has been camping in the park since the demonstration began. Additionally, he participated in a dry run of the protest held on September 1 at Federal Hall National Memorial at 26 Wall St. That evening, he and eight other people were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
Guarang also indicated that a sense of hopelessness prompted him to get involved.
“The insanity of our situation is that even [college graduates] are incapable of living a life,” he said, blaming corporate greed and government corruption. “The inability to pursue my dreams, that pisses me off on a personal level,” Guarang added.
Both Clarke and Guarang intend on extending their participation in the demonstration indefinitely. Guarang said he will be in Zuccotti Park “as long as this thing needs support.”
The protests have been under constant police surveillance. The NYPD has at least 50 officers surrounding the park, a “mobile command center” RV, and a “mobile observation tower” — a foldable two-story structure with blackened windows that surveys the park. Requests for comment from the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, regarding the cost of the operation and the tactics employed by the NYPD, were not answered.
Following the mass arrests at Union Square on September 24, the occupation began receiving national and international media coverage, with several notable activists visiting Zuccotti Park. Thus far, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, actress Susan Sarandon, and Princeton professor Dr. Cornel West are among those who have made appearances and given speeches to the demonstrators.
Similar occupations, although much smaller, have sprouted in other major American cities including Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Denver and Los Angeles.