Occupy protesters marched from Liberty Square in lower Manhattan to Union Square in midtown on Saturday to call for the resignation of NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and speak out about police brutality in the city. Of the many hundreds that marched, a handful were arrested by the riot control officers who shadowed the march along its route.
There has been a growing focus by the original Occupy Wall Street group in New York City on confronting the treatment they've received by police. Some in the movement, however, worry that a prolonged conflict with the mayor's office and the police commissioner will distract the movement from its larger goal of addressing wealth inequality, corporate personhood, and the dominance of Wall Street financiers over the economy and government.
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The New York Times: Arrests at Occupy Wall Street Rally
The police arrested several people on Saturday during an Occupy Wall Street march that organizers said was meant to protest police tactics and brutality. In part, protesters said, the march was meant to object to the police decision last Saturday to close Zuccotti Park and arrest more than 70 people gathered there.
The first arrests took place shortly after about 300 people left Zuccotti Park and began marching north, accompanied by police on foot and riding scooters. On White Street, many of the marchers abruptly turned onto Lafayette Street, breaking away from the attending officers, and running north. Some of them unfurled yellow flags and others a long orange net resembling nets the police have used in the past to corral protesters.
At Canal Street a police commander grabbed a young woman holding the net.
“You’re under arrest,” he said to the woman and then pointed to another woman nearby, saying that she too was under arrest. Officers and protesters surrounded the women as they lay on the pavement with the netting draped over them. They were then taken into custody.
Over the next hour or so, the march continued, passing through the financial district and SoHo, with some protesters shouting invective at the officers and occasionally doubling back on sidewalks in an apparent effort to shake the large police detail following them.
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According to a statement on Occupy Wall Street's official website:
[Saturday's march will] call for NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s immediate resignation and [...] show that we are fearless in the face of state violence. Last Saturday, the police department broke up a peaceful Spring celebration in Liberty Square by kicking, punching and beating Occupy Wall Street activists. Since then, NYPD has conducted nightly raids on Occupiers in Union Square to enforce arbitrary rules as an excuse to harass, intimidate, brutalize, and arrest those gathered peacefully there to build community and challenge the financial elite. The NYPD enacts this brutality against communities of color, Muslim Americans, women, the LGBTQI community and other activists across this city on a daily basis to uphold a system of such vast economic inequality. Violence is required to maintain order for the 1%. [...]
We will no longer tolerate violence in our neighborhoods and against our children. We will no longer tolerate Stop and Frisk. We will no longer tolerate constant surveillance. We will no longer tolerate the violence suppression of free speech and right to assembly. We know that this violence is the strong arm of economic and social injustice.
In the face of this brutal system, we are fearless, fierce and feminist. Together we declare, let freedom spring!
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Occupy Wall Street called for the demonstration following last weekend's mass arrest of at least 73 protesters, a crackdown most Occupiers described as excessively violent. Organisers framed Saturday's action as a critique of an array of NYPD tactics that tend to disproportionately target low-income communities and people of colour. Protesters repeatedly pointed to the department's widespread use of street-level stop and frisks and the surveillance of Muslim communities as examples of failed NYPD policy.
By early evening, there had been 14 arrests. City councilman Jumaane Williams, a supporter of the Occupy movement, was on hand for the march and attempted to de-escalate confrontations between police and the protesters.
"My primary job is to make sure everybody's rights are protected and nobody is harmed," Williams said.
"I think we're seeing the frustration and anger raised on both sides, the protesters and the police and I blame that squarely on the mayor and the commissioner," he added. "They refuse to address the issues that we're trying to discuss. They refuse to acknowledge there's a problem with the culture within the NYPD."
"I don't blame the rank and file NYPD. I blame the leadership of the NYPD and the city," Williams went on to say. "When you try to suppress people's speech, they do tend to get angry. What I saw last week was people using Zuccotti park in the way that it was supposed to be, they way that they were told that they could legally use it and they still got beat up and they still got arrested."
The focus of Saturday's action, however, left some protesters worried.
"I'm a little concerned about our message getting watered down," Occupy protester Aaron Black told the Guardian. Black argues that while protesters have suffered aggressive treatment by the police, the movement should remain focused on economic issues.
"We started the conversation in September," Black said. "What we're upset about is that they keep interrupting the conversation."
"We keep getting our heads kicked," he explained. "That's not constitutional."
Black said he fears continued clashes with the police could obfuscate Occupy's opposition to things like corporate personhood and the influence of money in politics, "I hope it's not a constant showdown with police."
Protester Liesbeth Rapp said the issue of police violence is impossible for Occupy to ignore. Rapp said she has witnessed "an insane amount of police brutality" against Occupy protesters over the past six months.
"We didn't target police brutality. Police brutality targeted us," she said. "We have to make people aware of what the state is doing, but it's a complex issue.
"We have to make them aware that their tax dollars are being misused to suppress people exercising their first amendment rights and any form of dissent. That's very important for people to know," Rapp added. "I feel it's a vital thing to call attention to."
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