by Guy Fawkes
Nine-year-old Jude Rollison stared in wide-eyed amazement Friday as a peaceful member of the Occupy Wall Street movement was manhandled by police and arrested for writing on the sidewalk with chalk near Zuccotti Park.
The Brooklyn girl routinely draws in chalk on the pavement outside her school and home and the picture she took in of police harassing a nonviolent pro-democracy protester was completely contrary to the popular image of the New York Police Department as an organization that protects and serves its fellow New Yorkers. The Occupy Wall Street movement has sustained more than 6,000 arrests since it began Sept. 17, 2011, with New York City accounting for more than any other city.
"It was the stupidest thing ever," Jude said. "I know that they have to do this – that it's their job – but they don't have to go this far. I mean – it's chalk."
As with many of the police tactics employed against Occupy by the wealthiest elected official in U.S. history, the law wasn't equally applied. Michael Bloomberg, the city's billionaire mayor, seems to have one set of informal rules for the Wall Street businesses and workers who have helped him amass a $20 billion fortune and another for anyone who challenges them.
The owner of the Bloomberg LP financial information company described the NYPD as his "private army" in a Nov. 29 speech.
The Occupier arrested Friday, who declined to give his name, had refused an unlawful order earlier in the day to leave the steps around the statue of George Washington near the New York Stock Exchange. The same steps were occupied by tourists immediately before and after the 250 marchers arrived.
However, police told protesters that their presence on the steps was a "safety issue" and cleared about half the crowd before abandoning the effort as the protester they later targeted for arrest (pictured above left and below right) and his fellow banner-holders stood firm.
Similar orders were not directed at tourists by police, either before or after the showdown. In fact, a group of 50 French tourists were allowed to sit on the very section of steps that had been cleared within minutes of Occupy's departure from the area after the closing bell on the stock exchange.
It's that kind of selective enforcement toward people who are not like Michael Bloomberg that has caused problems for NYPD in recent years.
The term-limited mayor's dictatorial ways have led to his being nicknamed "Czar Mike" and to New York City being ridiculed as "Bloombergistan." They've also prompted many working-class New Yorkers to put away the NYPD caps and T-shirts they've sported since 9/11 and has contributed to plummeting morale within the once-vaunted department.
"I'm disappointed in the City of New York and the way the NYPD is preserving and protecting Mike Bloomberg and Wall Street, and not taxpayers – not the people who pay their salaries," Richard Rollison, 60, said as he stood beside his daughter Jude. "She's learning about democracy (in school) and for her to get the opportunity to see democracy in action, or the lack of democracy – what better education."
NYPD is mired in a ticket-fixing corruption scandal, engaged in a pattern of discriminatory conduct in its widespread use of stop and frisks, and being pilloried for its extensive surveillance of both Muslim-Americans and Occupiers.
The Department conducted a record 684,000 stops and frisks in 2011 — a 14% increase from 2010, according to the Rights Working Group in Washington, D.C. Eighty-seven percent of those stopped were black and Hispanic, although the two ethnic minorities account for just 54% of city residents. Four million New Yorkers were stopped and searched between 2004 and 2011.
"I've been arrested by you guys (before) and you beat the hell out of me before, too," the protester arrested Friday said as he was searched. "Chalk, it's a weapon of mass destruction."
Bystanders shouted words of support. They also scolded the phalanx of 30 officers around him, saying "this is how you serve and protect" and "you should be ashamed."
NYPD Spokesman Mike Browne and Bloomberg Administration Spokemsan Stu Loeser did not respond to a request for comment about the arrest, maintaining a public information embargo toward the nonprofit Cynical Times that dates back to its founding in June of 2011.
The arrest was a blip in the otherwise improving relationship between Occupy and the police, which allowed the group to exercise its freedoms of speech and assembly Friday across the street from the New York Stock Exchange for the second consecutive week, albeit with a heavy police presence. There were nearly as many police as protesters.
The public areas around the stock exchange previously had been blocked to members of the pro-democracy movement, but left open to foreign tourists and financial professionals, much like Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Occupy seeks to shed a public spotlight on the increasing domination of American society by corporations and the degree to which wealth is being concentrated in the hands of the richest 1% by favorable government policies.
The richest 1% captured 93% of U.S. income gains in 2010, according to the ThinkProgresss website.
"The economy has become a captive of the corporations," said Edith Cresmer, 73, of Manhattan, who is a member of a group called the Granny Peace Brigade. "The lowering of taxes on the rich and the reduction of benefits for the needy doesn't produce the kind of Society we should have."
The image of Occupy Wall Street as a movement of disaffected youth was belied Friday by the presence of older protesters, like Cresmer, and marchers with children.
"The rich just keep getting richer," Luke Richardson, 26, of Brooklyn, said as he held his 3-year-old daughter Wade in his arms (left). "We're running out of time and we're running out of options as well. A lot of people say 'what are you going to accomplish by doing this. Well, what are our options other than standing up and saying 'we're not going to take it anymore.'"
The recent moderation in the collective level of police testosterone comes just three weeks after a crackdown on the six-month anniversary of Occupy, which many protesters described as a "police riot."
Relations between police and protesters reached a low-point on March 17 when 73 Occupiers were arrested during a nonviolent protest in Zuccotti Park by more than 600 people. One protester suffered a seizure during the March 17 chaos, a second had his head smashed into a window and a third was thrown onto the hood of a car by her neck. When the incident was over, a handful of protesters were charged with assaulting police officers.
"The NYPD has traditionally had a poor reputation in handling large crowd dispersal and public relations while doing same," said Richard Rivera, a former police officer and expert on police misconduct.
The police still refuse to allow Occupy to set up camp in any public location in New York City. Large private organizations with close ties to the political and development machine have taken a similar stance, even with vacant land and idle buildings.
Trinity Wall Street, a nonprofit Episcopal church with a real estate portfolio of more than $10 billion, refused to allow Occupy to set up camp in a vacant lot it owns in Lower Manhattan on Dec. 17, clearing the way for at least 49 arrests that day. The church's leader received annual compensation of $1.29 million in 2009.
Occupiers have found a way to circumvent that blockade in recent days, by sleeping on sidewalks around the parks where they gather during the day. An April 6 story in The New York Times noted that 24 protesters slept in sleeping bags outside banks around Union Square on Friday night after being ousted from the park.
Times reporter Colin Moynihan wrote that David Graeber, an anthropologist and anarchist who participated in the meetings that helped shape the Occupy movement, carried a large placard emblazoned with part of a 2000 court ruling that says "the First Amendment of the United States Constitution does not allow the city to prevent an orderly political protest from using public sleeping as a means of symbolic expression.”