At the tail end of last night’s Occupy Wall Street march from Foley Square to Zuccotti Park with major unions (and a guest appearance from Michael Moore), the facilitator of the Zuccotti rally announced a march on Wall Street. As it turned out, it was an unauthorized march, as we discovered when we reached the corner of Broadway and Wall to meet a line of police pulled from every precinct in the city blocking the way with orange kettling nets and then metal barriers. The situation stayed at a standstill — but not for long. According to Occupy Wall Street, 27 or 28 people were arrested last night; we’re still waiting on the police estimate. [Update: City Room reports that the NYPD puts the number at 23.]
When the tension broke and protesters finally decided to mix it up with the cops, climbing scaffolding on Broadway and trying to breach the barriers, arrests and pepper-spraying ensued.
There’s also a video of a high-ranking police officer beating protesters with a nightstick.
After that incident, the situation degenerated quickly into chaos. On Beaver Street, cops on scooters and on foot chased protesters who were at this point running pell mell down the street, yelling “We told you not to mace us.” Some of those who stayed in the street instead of the sidewalk were beaten with nightsticks even while lying prone on the ground. An officer on a scooter zoomed into three girls, slamming them into a parked car. Some protesters urged everyone to sit. This man knelt in the middle of the road:
The protesters continued running towards Bowling Green. More people were arrested on Whitehall Street, and again later after the group had returned to Zuccotti Park and then went out for a second time on a much smaller and less thought-out march around 10 p.m. All in all, this reporter observed about 10 arrests.
Last night never became an out-and-out riot, but there were violent moments that marred an otherwise peaceful day of protest with the unions. Protesters didn’t follow directions, and cops responded with aggressive force — and that’s what the camera lenses landed on.
Things seemed to have ended on a more positive note. According to photographer C.S. Muncy who stayed at the scene until about 1 a.m., the protesters and cops around Zuccotti Park laughed and joked once everything had calmed down. “I watched this captain and a fellow in a Guy Fawkes mask asking each other if they had a good time,” he said.
Update 3:52 p.m.: Harry Siegel just left a City Council Public Safety sub-committee meeting at 250 Broadway across from City Hall, where NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly was testifying on the NYPD’s post 9/11 counter-terror tactics. While Council members never brought up last night’s violence or Occupy Wall Street at all, reporters speaking with Kelly afterward peppered him with questions about last night.
In either a rare split with the mayor or, more likely, a signal that the mayor is rethinking his earlier impatience with the protesters, Kelly said the NYPD had no issue with OWS going on indefinitely. “Our job is to accommodate demonstrations,” he said. “People are going to be here for an extended period of time, and we’re going to accommodate them.” He paused, and went on: “in accordance with the laws and regulations.”
Those laws and regulations, he suggested, could benefit the occupiers if the owners of the park try to push them out. “They would need a legal basis to do that,” Kelly said. “What I’m saying is the public has a right to access to that to park… Right now they are there, and the owners of the plaza don’t have a legal right to eject them.”
“There’s lots of different groups there, with lots of different agendas. It’s not a monolithic demonstration,” said the commissioner, who told reporters that 50 percent of those arrested yesterday were not from New York. Police spokesman Paul Browne said that one arrest was for assaulting an officer while most were for disorderly conduct, for blocking traffic.
Defending the police response, Kelly repeatedly pointed to what he called a “core group of self-styled anarchists” who wanted to go from Zuccotti Park down Broadway to Wall St. itself, and he said were determined to physically confront officers who barred the way.
“When you have a confrontation, which is what these individuals wanted, it’s not pretty,” Kelly said.