Part one in a three-part installment detailing the events of #m24 which carried over through the morning of #m26.
March 17 was the 6-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street moving into Zuccotti Park, renaming it Liberty Square and the beginning of the Occupy Movement worldwide.
We celebrated all day, in style—chanting, dancing, marching, holding a General Assembly that needed three waves of the People’s Microphone—until the police brutally crashed our party—beating and violently arresting over 73 Occupiers in the park and on the march that ensued. It was probably the most violent day in our short history, and we have not been able to determine that any of the incidents were warranted or incited by an Occupier.
Our response was two-fold. On Tuesday, March 20, we held a press conference at 1 Police Plaza with allied communities—Muslim, Latin@, LGBT, Black, undocumented, and the undomiciled—to call for an end to police repression, brutality, surveillance, and explicitly for the resignation of NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.
The second part, which was much more in line with our style, was to take our energy back to the streets. We, again joined by our allies, held an anti-police-brutality march.
On Saturday, m24, I got to Liberty Square around 11:30am to meet with about 10 other Occupiers, who had also volunteered to act as pacers for the march—folks who would help direct the march, respond to police kettling or obstruction, close gaps and maintain continuity in the middle, and help protect stragglers in the back from getting picked off by police.
We discussed the plan for the day. It would begin in Liberty Square with a series of speakers talking about their personal and communities’ experiences with the NYPD, which mostly consisted of violence and repression. Afterward we would march north on Broadway to Union Square, where a new, 24-hour occupation had been in place since the violent eviction at Liberty Square on m17.
The march route would pass in front of five locations at the heart of New York’s police and jail system—City Hall, 100 Centre Street, aka “the Tombs,” 1 Police Plaza, the Federal Building, and the ICE Detention Center. The exact route would be at the discretion of the pacers at the front of the march, and largely based on how much space the police gave us. Our primary mode of communication with each other was via a private text-message loop, which would help us coordinate throughout the march.
An interesting addition to this march was a group of about 30 folks from Veterans For Peace. They appeared to be somewhere in between their late 50s and late 60s. They were mostly white men and women who had served in the armed forces. Their gray sweatshirts bore their logo, and every one of them had plastic goggles hanging from their necks. They were prepared to be peppered sprayed.
Having seen photos, videos, and reports of the violence the week before, Veterans For Peace reached out to OWS. Not only did they want to march in solidarity with us, they wanted to put themselves on the front lines, or positioned anywhere in the march that we felt was vulnerable. They wanted to stand between us and the police, in order to protect our constitutional rights—to put their bodies on the line and spare us the brutality for one day.
I nearly cried when I saw them gathered on Saturday, and I’m crying now as I think about it. I’m crying because their sacrifice honors and humbles me. And because it didn’t work.
The first speaker of the day was Eric, an organizer and street medic with Occupy Wall Street, who was one of those arrested during the m17 eviction of Liberty Square. Eric chose not to speak of his own experiences, as violent as they were, but instead to connect our current struggle and experiences with those of people who have come before us. With Sean Bell, Troy Davis, Amadou Diallo and so many more black and Latin@ men and women murdered by the NYPD and the police state.
A speaker from the National Lawyers Guild, which provides all of the legal support for Occupy Wall Street, highlighted how some people are treated as criminals based on their actions, but in New York City, the NYPD has criminalized the entire Muslim community simply because of who they are.
City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez (Democrat, District 10, Manhattan) and Jumaane Williams (Democrat, District 45, Brooklyn), longtime OWS supporters spoke on the history of NYPD violence.
“It is not an accident that all the people killed by the NYPD are black and Latino,” Rodriguez said.
On OWS, Rodriguez asserted, “This movement is the voice of the working and middle classes.”
Councilmember Williams flipped up his hoodie, which he said that he wore in solidarity with Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black youth murdered by a man in Florida who targeted him because of his clothing and his race. Williams asked those of us with hoodies to put on our hoods as well. We wore them with pride.
It was nearing 1pm, the crowd in Liberty Square had filled out dramatically, energy was building, the sun was shining, and we were ready to march.
The pacers spread out, the drums started to beat, and we marched.