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Occupy Wall Street began yesterday, its six-month anniversary, with a parent-and-child chalk-art event in Zuccotti Park, the small downtown plaza that became the epicenter of the movement last fall.
The rest of the day would become a sort of a condensed repetition of Occupy’s history, as protesters marched, set up shop in Zuccotti Park, clashed with police, were arrested in significant numbers, and were ultimately re-evicted, as police forcefully dragged them from the public plaza and re-erected the barricades blocking off the park.
At 11 a.m., protesters set out from the square for a winding march that wound through the narrow streets of the financial district. Where many of Occupy Wall Street’s recent actions have consisted of no more than a couple hundred protesters at most, this march was unquestionably larger.
The protesters were clearly enjoying their greater numbers, and some took the opportunity to taunt police, hurling insults and flipping the bird at officers attempting to herd the march. For their part, police were also more aggressive than in recent Occupy actions, repeatedly shoving protesters who got in their way.
When the march returned to the square, there were further standoffs, as police arrested half a dozen protesters, provoking an angry response from the occupiers.
Three times, senior “white-shirt” officers paraded in a column through the center of the park without discernible purpose, agitating protesters and escalating the level of tension in the park.
As the afternoon wore on, though, the mood began to lighten, as police lowered their profile and the protesters began to enjoy the familiar sensation of a crowded and lively Zuccotti Park. Protesters conducted a General Assembly, a drum circle was convened, and their numbers were buttressed by a delegation from the Left Forum, a radical conference being held up the street at Pace University.
Blankets — allowed by the park rules, which forbid sleeping bags and tents — were brought into the park. Occupiers erected an impromptu rain-fly, and began assembling cardboard boxes to serve as bedding. For the first time since they were evicted in November, occupiers were going to spend the night in Zuccotti Park.
But that was not to be. By about 11:30, the number of police surrounding the park had grown significantly, and an officer announced that the park was closed. The protesters, many with fresh memories of the last eviction, and schooled in the park owner’s legal obligation to keep the park open 24-hours a day, refused to leave, sitting and joining arms.
Over the next twenty minutes or so, police waded into the park, pulling people out and arresting them. Photographer C.S. Muncy said he saw police drag a woman out of the park by her hair. (Three hours later, Occupy Wall Street Jail Support team said it had the names of 25 people arrested during the closing of the park, but that the number was likely to grow.)
At 11:50, Cecily McMillan, who fellow occupiers say was hurt by an excessively forceful arrest that cracked her ribs (ambiguous video suggests she might have thrown an elbow at a cop before they threw her to the ground) suffered a seizure.
Liesbeth Rapp, an Occupy protester who later visited McMillan at New York Downtown Hospital, said trained EMTs among the occupiers were not allowed to treat McMillan, and an ambulance did not arrive for more than 15 minutes after she began seizing. At the hospital, Rapp said, McMillan complained that police were not allowing her to call her doctor or her lawyer.
As Zuccotti Park was being emptied, police and Brookfield Property’s private security guards unlocked the stacks of metal barricades that have stood in a corner of the park ever since January, when, under increasing legal pressure, the city finally reopened the park.
“What you’re doing is illegal!” protesters screamed at the police, referring to zoning provisions that restrict the fencing-off of a public plaza.
Police weren’t swayed by that argument, and soon hundreds of protesters launched an impromptu march, snaking north, mostly up Broadway. Police followed on foot and on scooters, flanking the marchers and forcing them back onto sidewalks whenever they tried to take the street.
A few blocks south of Canal street on Broadway, a young waiter smiled through a restaurant window and raised his fist in solidarity with the marchers. Nearly simultaneously, someone in an upstairs apartment of the Tribeca building upended their drink on the crowd.
Crossing Canal Street, the march jogged through Soho and Nolita. Police employed by now well-honed tactics to break up and separate the march, racing in on scooters to divide the protesters at intersections. At the corner of Broadway and Howard Street, a group of 20 or 30 protesters were corralled by police for several minutes. Recalling training given earlier in the day by the National Lawyers Guild, they asked “Are we being detained?” Police didn’t answer, but released them shortly afterwards.
As the march veered south on Crosby Street, police arrested one man after throwing him up against metal shutters. C.S. Muncy, who photographed the arrest, described a police officer smashing his megaphone into the back of the man’s head.
Continuing north, the march crossed Houston, then swerved left down 10th street, which was again the scene of violent arrests. Police threw one man into a plate-glass window, cracking it, before cuffing him. At least three others were also arrested there.
By the time finally reached Union Square, protesters were exhausted and confused. Using the people’s mic, they read out tweets and emails from some of those arrested, including Shawn Carrié:
Around 2:30 in the morning, many began to leave — some to go home, others to provide support for fellow protesters in jail or the hospital.
Back downtown, Zuccotti Park remained fenced off and deserted except for police and security guards. Children’s chalk drawings from the morning were still visible on the flagstones.
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