Occupy Wall Street had a field day Friday as its civilian-tacticians outfoxed a dispirited police department, which has pushed its “protect and serve” mantra aside to wage a losing public relations battle on behalf of New York City’s billionaire-mayor.
NYPD’s efforts to hinder the nonviolent protesters’ freedoms of speech and assembly achieved a goal Occupy has never been able to fulfill on its own: paralyzing foot traffic around the New York Stock Exchange. Steel barriers deployed to fence off much of the open-air plaza funneled rush hour commuters into a narrow passageway Friday at the foot of the steps of Federal Hall, where similar barriers surrounded the small area designated for protesters near the statue of George Washington.
The barriers gave the police inside them all the room in the world and provided a spacious enclave for “no more than 25 protesters” on the steps of Federal Hall. But they were a nightmare for commuters, who normally crisscross the pedestrian plaza in all directions
“No rules on banks, but free speech – tons of rules,” Occupier Jesse LeGreca said derisively as protesters read the extensive regulations governing their presence to the crowd. “We’re part of an economic system that tells us Wall Street works great without rules, but we have five pages of rules that regulate how we can exercise our freedom of speech in the shadow of George Washington.”
The funnel at the foot of the steps rapidly clogged as meandering tourists stopped to gawk, photographers snapped pictures of the protesters, and hordes of commuters headed in opposite directions.
New York’s finest are equipped for a variety of missions that range from shooting down hostile aircraft to sharing intelligence information with federal police around the world. However, they seem destined to lose a public relations battle built around their suppression of a loyal opposition movement, which seeks only to stop the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of people like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The weekly protest drew more than 400 marchers – twice as many as on some previous weeks. However, the crowd appeared to be many times larger as the restricted walkways around the plaza filled to overflowing.
“What’s going on?” one commuter asked, seeing the sidewalk ahead of him jammed with people. When told that it was Occupy, he said “oh no, not them again.”
Occupy has made the stock exchange plaza the target of its weekly Protest Friday marches. A small group of protesters has begun holding a night-time vigil there as well and sleeping on the sidewalk. Political protests are permitted on New York City sidewalks provided they leave half of the space open to passing pedestrians. Nevertheless, eight protesters were arrested Friday afternoon after they laid on the sidewalk in the crowded funnel.
“This is ridiculous,” a commuter shouted Friday when police denied him passage through the chokepoint. “I work on Wall Street.”
At least 10 people were arrested in all. The most spectacular arrest occurred when one protester was shoved by an officer into the back of a wedge of police trying to move the crowd east along Wall Street. New York Times reporter Colin Moynihan identified the arrested protester as Kevin Jones (top of page).
A knot of police, protesters and commuters stumbled down the sidewalk for nearly 50 feet, sending commuters flying in the tightly-packed crowd as officers pulled Jones in competing directions. He wound up buried beneath a pile of city and federal police.
It was the kind of banner day Occupy has long pursued, in which the financial professionals who have impoverished their fellow Americans were visited with a small bit of compensatory inconvenience, courtesy of the wealthiest elected official in U.S. history.
“I only have two blocks to go and I can’t get through,” a well-dressed woman shouted into her cellphone, eyes brimming with tears. “I can’t get through.”
Jack Amico, 23, of the Bronx, and a second Occupier quickly tired of her entitled whining and suggested an alternate route.
“Shut up already,” said Amico (right). “Just walk around the block.”
“Don’t you tell me what to do,” she shouted, following his directions.
One percent, meet the 99%.
Stu Loesner, a spokesman for the Bloomberg Administration, did not respond to a request for comment from The Cynical Times. Neither did NYPD Spokesman Paul Browne
Michael Bloomberg has been an active participant in the class warfare dustup between Occupy and the Wall Street financial community that helped build his $20 billion fortune. Rather than pursuing the kind of neutral stance one would expect from a public servant, the 70-year CEO of the Bloomberg LP financial information system has dented federal and local law in a bid to undermine the grassroots group.
Some of his actions have turned out to be an unexpected boon to protesters, like the placement of steel barriers in the stock exchange plaza. Closing Occupy’s camp at Zuccotti Park provided the displaced bodies now sleeping on Wall Street sidewalks.
The designated “first amendment rights area” at the foot of Federal Plaza (right) also serves to spotlight the diminution of civil rights that’s taken place since the 1% gained control of the U.S. Congress. The area was crowded with protesters before the 25-person restriction was enforced.
Half of all U.S. Senators and Representatives are now millionaires, although millionaires account for only 1% of the nation’s 315 million people. And there was a time not too long ago in this nation’s history when all of America was considered a first amendment area. On paper, it still is.
The First Amendment guarantees the right of free expression as embodied by the freedoms of assembly, speech, press and religion.
“The corporate state is out of control,” said Xiomara Hayes (left), 66, of Manhattan. “They’re taking us down and if people don’t wake up and start fighting for our democracy we’re going to lose everything. We’ve already lost a lot of our rights and we’re in danger of losing even more.”
Bloomberg, who was raised in Boston, described the NYPD as “my own army” in November and has employed it much as robber barons used private security forces to protect their factories from striking workers in the 1920s and 30s. He exacerbated that misstep in March, when he taunted working class New Yorkers in his metallic accent, saying “you want to get arrested – we’ll accommodate you.”
Hundreds of New Yorkers took him up on the challenge Friday and many thousands more have been enraged by his trampling of the constitution and battering of working-class young people.
“Occupy has succeeded in surviving the winter and I see this thing growing to immense proportions as this election year progresses,” said Charles Helms (right), an organized labor activist who joined Friday’s protest.
Bloomberg has also set the NYPD loose on the most active Occupiers, arresting them time and again. One leader named “Maria” was arrested 46 minutes after being released, according to Amico.
“A cop who had grabbed me took one look at her and said ‘that was the one who was arrested this morning, grab her,” said Amico, who has been arrested six times. He was arrested two weeks ago for writing on the sidewalk with chalk.
Instead of buckling under the pressure, Occupy has grown savvy. Its members split into small groups Friday to make their way to the steps of Federal Hall. Some wore suits and ties to blend in with the financial professionals there.
The win comes as Occupy and organized labor prepare for a general strike in 115 U.S. cities on May 1 that’s being billed as “A Day Without The 99%.”
Occupier John Dennehy told the Occupied Stories website that Friday’s march was the most exciting of the three weekly protests he’s participated in.
“The marches are designed as a fun way to practice new protest tactics before May Day,” Dennehy said. “The police stop us blocks away from Wall Street when we march in a group, so we have developed different tactics of going ‘civilian’ (and) breaking into small groups to penetrate the police lines that circle the stock exchange before reforming the protest on the other side.”