By Carrie M
March 17, the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, started off so nicely and remained a beautiful celebration for many hours. It ended with more than 70 arrests, most of them astonishingly and unnecessarily brutal. There are hundreds of individual stories of what people witnessed that day and night. This is just one.
To begin, while we personally and collectively work through the trauma of the violence perpetrated against Occupy Wall Street by the New York Police Department, I want us to also remember the way we felt before the cops evicted us (again) from Liberty Plaza.
During the early afternoon, a group of about 200 people marched jubilantly around Wall Street. We held flags and signs, we chanted, and we scampered away from the cops and into the streets.
There were families on the march, children, toddlers. A boy in a baseball cap joyfully led a chant of “One! We are the people! Two! We are united! Three! This occupation is not leaving!” We all smiled. As far as I know, there were no arrests on the march, and we returned to a waiting (and growing) crowd in Liberty Plaza.
Over the next few hours, a festive atmosphere prevailed over our park. There were several confrontations with the police when they arbitrarily took actions such as deciding to clear public sidewalks. In one such instance, a Daily Occupier contributor (@JustDallas) was hassled by the NYPD while sitting on top of his own truck parked alongside Liberty Plaza, and then arrested. In the same crackdown, “blue-haired” Lauren was arrested while dancing on the sidewalk. Occasional calls for “cameras!” to document arrests interrupted an otherwise brilliant afternoon.
The sunset glow spread over a joyous crowd at Liberty Park and we held our regularly scheduled General Assembly. It was the smoothest one in a long time. The crowd was full of old and new faces, and the energy in the air was reminiscent of GAs back at the beginning when we still fully occupied the park. Tim (@DiceyTroop) and I sat together on the stairs typing on our laptops, he was livetweeting for @LibertySqGA and I was taking minutes—just like Tim and I used to do at General Assemblies back in October and November. He kept wonderingly and happily observing how it felt like old times, like Occupy Wall Street was really alive again.
Once the General Assembly came to a close, we danced. “Get up! Get down! There’s a revolution in this town!” and “A! Anti! Anticapitalista!” Direct Action held a lively training session on park defense, where we practiced taking a defensive stance then soft-locking and facing different park directions. “Soft-lock north!” We laughed and treated it like a dance party. A few people strung up a tarp between a couple trees. Just after 11pm, a group of bagpipers who apparently were not affiliated with Occupy Wall Street wandered past the southwest corner of the park—and were immediately accosted by police. A large crowd went down to witness this confrontation with cameras. Reports are that the police broke the bagpipes but ultimately let them go. As I walked back into the park, someone pointed out to me an NYPD truck that had pulled up on the north side of the park–filled with barricades. Not a good sign.
Suddenly around 11:30, NYPD “white-shirt” Winski appeared with a bullhorn. He proceeded to tell us we had to leave so the park could be closed for “cleaning.” Those words are all too familiar to Occupiers in Liberty Plaza.Immediately there were calls to sit down and soft-lock, as previously discussed in the training previously that evening. We had reoccupied the park, peacefully, and were going to defend it, peacefully. I sat in the third row of people facing the east-side stairs and locked arms with those next to me. I looked around and could see the fear as well as the conviction that we all felt. After all the pride and happiness we’d experienced that day, we were ready to insist on our right to assemble in a park that’s legally required to be open to the public 24 hours a day. We were ready to defend our home.
I’ve never experienced anything like what happened next. A massive sea of dark blue crashed down into us. We chanted at the top of our lungs: “ONE! WE ARE THE PEOPLE! TWO! WE ARE UNITED! THREE! THIS OCCUPATION IS NOT LEAVING!” I watched NYPD officers come in swinging batons and dragging people in the first couple of rows off the ground by whatever they could grab, being arrested. I could hear screams all around. People were being pulled, hit, and dragged across the cement. I would later find out a lot of injuries were inflicted on those sitting right in front of me. The people in my soft-lock line stood up, so I did too. The cops ran in and physically pushed everyone in the crowd, arresting many and forcefully knocking the rest of us back and out of the park. Running, shrieks, and violence were all around. For people sitting in a park.
Amid the chaos, roughly 100 of us quickly formed a march and headed north. The NYPD of course followed. Along the way, I witnessed several more brutal arrests. At one point, the officers had a young man pinned face-first into a wall and the march had moved on. I approached and asked his name in order to tell the National Lawyers Guild. The cop pushed me and yelled that I’d be arrested too, but I persisted to as he repeatedly shoved me. I rejoined the march. We made a sudden turn west on E. 10th Street and began running in the street. Two NYPD scooters drove into me and a couple others who were marching, forcing us onto the sidewalk. When I got on the sidewalk, I was steps away from where a few cops were violently slamming one of our street medics into a doorway. We screamed at them to stop it. They smashed him into the glass door, breaking it. The cops shoved us all away from the arrest underway. I screamed “HE’S A FUCKING MEDIC!” Right then, I saw a close friend of mine being led off in cuffs, and another good friend pushed up against a cop car, being arrested … again.
We told the arrestees we loved them, held up points of affection, and continued marching towards Union Square. Once the march arrived in Union Square, we dropped to the cement at nearly 2am in exhaustion and shock. There was nothing to say. Traumatized is the only way to begin to describe the feeling of being so violated, beaten, dehumanized, crushed … for simply holding a joyful celebration in a park. Sitting there quietly, we began to read tweets about comrades who’d been horrendously injured in the park and I just kept thinking, “Why?” I felt broken, with part of me just in utter disbelief that the NYPD had used such massively disproportionate force against us. How could police officers bring themselves to so brutally attack innocent people? What had we done to deserve this?
The answer is: We’d done nothing. And so the other part of me felt immense resolve and resilience. The senseless brutality of the NYPD only makes me want to fight harder. It radicalizes me.
There are some calls for Occupy Wall Street to get “back on message.” But this is part of the message. The militaristic, oppressive actions by the “army” of our billionaire mayor are just one more indication of the government doing anything but taking care of its own citizens. The NYPD makes our point for us. So thanks, Bloomberg. Thanks, Ray Kelly. You will not get away with this. THIS OCCUPATION IS NOT LEAVING.
All photos by Carrie M. See her gallery of photos from throughout #M17 here.