Mayor Mike Bloomberg has a solution for the tense police-protester relationship at Occupy Wall Street: barricades.
At a press conference this morning, the mayor, responding to reporters’ repeated questions about the arrests of more than 70 occupiers over the weekend, said that the New York Police Department was simply controlling a rowdy crowd, legally using barricades to stop them from camping out in Zuccotti Park, and protecting the protesters’ rights to demonstrate.
“Just trying to cause chaos doesn’t do anything to advance anybody’s cause. It doesn’t make society better,” Bloomberg told reporters. “If you have something really to say that would be a great contribution, nobody can hear you when everybody’s yelling and screaming and pushing and shoving. But it makes great theater.”
The Voice asked the mayor about the decision to put up barricades at Zuccotti, the birthplace of Occupy Wall Street, where protesters rallied on Saturday in honor of the sixth-month anniversary of the movement.
Advocates have argued that the city cannot legally barricade the park, which is a privately-owned public plaza, because city zoning codes mandate that the park be open and accessible to the public.
But the barricades — which were put up during the infamous November eviction and removed in January — were set up again over the weekend as OWS took advantage of the good weather and crowded the park.
In response to our question about why the barricades were put up, the mayor today said: “Yes the barricades are back up at Zuccotti Park, because people are trying to move in and set up tents, which is not allowed. That’s the only reason you put barricades up.”
The Voice followed up and asked if it was legal to put the barricades up, and Bloomberg responded, “It is if we need it for crowd control, and clearly we needed it for crowd control. You have a right to protest. You have a right to go in the park. You don’t have a right to set up tents. End of story. I think we’ve just answered your question.”
Finally, we asked him who actually makes that decision, the police department or Brookfield, the park’s owners.
“The NYPD,” Bloomberg said. “That’s their job. They keep us safe. Next time you walk by a police officer say, ‘Thank you, sir,’ because your right to ask this question is protected by that man or woman.”
A second reporter later asked Bloomberg if there’s anything the city can do in the future to prevent this kind of situation where large numbers of protesters are arrested.
“Yes. We put up barricades. That’s the answer to his question too,” Bloomberg said, with a small chuckle, referencing our earlier question. “Crowd control. You want to get arrested, we’ll accommodate you. But you know if you want to express yourself that’s not the best ways to express yourself. You’d be better off just going out and saying your piece and maybe giving people the opportunity to listen to you and see whether they agree, whether your ideas have merit or not.”
Asked later to respond to allegations that police used excessive force over the weekend, Bloomberg said, “There’s always the alleging of excessive force. I can’t think of any protest where there hasn’t been. The bottom line — we have a Police Department that’s not only very well-trained, but if you think about it, just take a look at some real numbers you can look at. The number of times a New York City Police Department officer pulls out a gun or shoots somebody compared to any other city in this country is so low it’s almost hard to measure it. This Police Department knows how to control crowds without excessive force and this Police Department is very well run.”
“They do allow you to protest but they don’t let it get out of hand,” he said.
While Bloomberg was fielding questions today in Queens — at a press conference about potholes — City Council members and OWS members were gathering at Zuccotti Park today to denounce the city’s use of “excessive force” and to call on New Yorkers to come out this coming Saturday to protest the NYPD’s treatment of Occupy Wall Street.
After Bloomberg’s presser, the Voice gave a ring to City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who — alongside Council members Jumaane Williams, Letitia James, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Stephen Levin — spoke out today, asking the city to exercise restraint in making arrests and respect demonstrators’ right to peacefully assemble.
“The NYPD should understand that they are accountable. They are not above our constitution,” said Rodriguez, who has been a loud supporter of OWS and who was arrested at the protests last year. “This movement is a peaceful movement…and it will not be silenced by…excessive force.”
When the Voice asked Rodriguez what he thought of Bloomberg’s response that the NYPD has not been using excessive force, the councilman, who was at the protests on Saturday, responded, “There’s no other definition than the NYPD using excessive force.” He said he saw people thrown down and other violent actions by police officers.
He said, “That is offensive to the peaceful movement…a movement that brought together young people, senior citizens, labor leaders, elected officials.”
Rodriguez added, “We are sending a message loud and clear that this movement will not leave New York City.”