Occupy Wall Street Protest: NYPD Accused of Heavy-Handed Tactics

Police square off against protesters on Brooklyn bridge during the Occupy Wall Street march. Photograph: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

Occupy Wall Street Protest: NYPD Accused of Heavy-Handed Tactics

Force criticised by protesters, who claim they were deliberately led on to road before being penned in and arrested

The New York police department has come under criticism for heavy-handed tactics during the Occupy Wall Street march over Brooklyn bridge, after more than 700 protesters were held for several hours.

Activists, as well as commentators following the protest against inequality and corporate excess, claim the response of the city's police force to the peaceful event was vastly out of proportion. Almost 1,000 people have been arrested in two weeks - substantially more than the number of financiers who led the world into the 2008 economic meltdown.

As Salman Rushdie put it in a tweet: "The world's economy has been wrecked by these rapacious traders. Yet it is the protesters who are jailed."

The march began on Saturday afternoon in Zuccotti Park, the Manhattan the base of the core of 200 or so OWS demonstrators. By the time it reached Brooklyn bridge it had swollen to several thousand.

Accounts vary as to how about 500 protesters ended up on one lane of the road across the bridge, where they were all penned in with orange netting and arrested. Some accused the police of leading them on to the road as a sort of trap.

Video clips posted on YouTube, showing a small body of officers marching on to the road ahead of the mass of demonstrators, appeared to support this view.

But the NYPD rejected those claims, saying that many warnings were given by police to protesters to stay on the pedestrian walkway that runs across the bridge at a level above the road. Paul Browne, the deputy commissioner, said protesters were clearly told that if they went on to the road they would be arrested. "Some complied and took the walkway without being arrested. Others proceeded on the Brooklyn-bound vehicular roadway and were," he said.

The police version of events was supported by some protesters.

Malcolm Harris, a blogger who took part in the march, tweeted that the police were wrong-footed. "The police didn't lead us on to the bridge. They were backing the fuck up."

Other participants suggested the confluence of so many on the road was a misunderstanding. Robert Cammiso, 48, told the Associated Press: "We were supposed to go up the pedestrian roadway. There was a huge funnel, a bottleneck, and we couldn't fit. People jumped from the walkway on to the roadway. We thought the roadway was open to us."

The NYPD was accused of over-weening behaviour towards the protesters once they were "kettled" on the bridge. Video footage showed police grappling with protesters and strong-arming them away, despite no apparent signs of violence.

The same footage shows the arrest of a young woman or girl wearing a cloth hat. Her age is not clear - she could be as young as 13 or as old as 20 - but the crowd clearly thought she was a child and chanted: "Shame, shame, shame."

Others chanted: "You can't arrest an idea" and "Let us out, let us out."

The Battle of Brooklyn Bridge, as some dubbed it, came as protests begun in Manhattan spread across America. There were smaller but substantial demonstrations over the weekend in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Washington and several other cities. In New York, most of those arrested were released early on Sunday with a citation for disorderly conduct. Brooklyn bridge was reopened by late evening, but the dramatic scenes there and the prevailing feeling that the police action was excessive are only likely to fuel the demonstrations as they carry on this week.

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