Well, I went to OWS this afternoon and made it back home safe and sound. The protests I attended started out very tense (bloody pavement, pissed-off police officers, the girl who was standing next to me getting arrested in a most unpleasant fashion–details and pics to follow), but it smoothed out just fine. Everyone was cool (except for the girl standing next to me…and a few others, I guess).
OWS “clashed” (media word of choice) with police around Wall Street and Liberty Square this morning and afternoon. Descriptions of the violence vary depending on where you get your news. In one well-publicized incident, a 20-year-old guy got his head busted open and was arrested. The cops claim that he did it to himself resisting arrest; some say that the cops beat him up. I must admit that I’m siding with the cops on this one, because 1) he sounds like an immature asshat, and 2) if that arrest was anything like the arrests I saw tonight, the cops wouldn’t dare lie because EVERYTHING was caught on digital video or photos.
I missed all of that, myself–didn’t get there till past 3 PM. I didn’t attend the Subway Occupation because after I thought about it I decided that it was obnoxious and ill-conceived. What is the point of occupying the subways? We already occupy the subways! Use em every day! Shit, if they put a cot down for me at my local station, I’d probably move in! It’s like saying, “Occupy the $.99-Store!” Already there, dude. Also: nobody likes to be bothered when they’re riding the trains–period. Panhandlers, evangelists, loud drunks, people eating meals (as opposed to SNACKS), blaring iPods, groping pervs–the bane of every straphanger’s existence. Nobody is going to be receptive to your ideas when you’re rudely violating their boundaries and impeding their commute!
Wouldn’t it make more sense to occupy a yacht club? I don’t mean to imply that everyone who belongs to a yacht club deserves to be confronted and reproached–just because you have an expensive boat does not mean that you unapologetically torture and exploit your fellow man!
Wait..where was I? Oh, yes. I dressed warmly (but not warmly enough), stored some extra cash in my shoe in case of emergencies, charged my cell phone and told two people where I was going, just in case. I left my handbag and wallet at home and just carried ID and a credit card in a zip pocket. I wore bright red gloves, thinking that police would be able to see them in the dark. I considered bringing a flashlight or votive candle, as the internet statement urged protesters to do, but quickly rejected that idea. I did not want to have ANYTHING in my hands that police might later be able to claim that I was using for a weapon.
I took the bus downtown around 3 PM. It was running very late; I was waiting for almost half an hour and I was trying to hail a taxicab when the bus came into view. While I was waiting, I witnessed about 30 police cars (no exaggeration) running downtown at full speed with their lights flashing.
During the trip, I sat next to two old ladies who were also going to the protest. They were very nice and they reminded me of my Mom for some reason. One of them had blue eyes and fluffy white hair. From behind, her head looked just like a Q-tip. She was wearing a pin that said “99%.” The other lady was African-American and she was wearing a floppy denim hat. She had a white cane, so I guess she was visually impaired. I talked to both of them as we went through Chinatown.
As the bus approached downtown, the traffic became very congested. Some streets were closed off for the protests. The waiting was making me anxious, so I bid the ladies good luck, exited the bus, and hoofed it over to Liberty Square (Zuccotti Park).
THERE WERE TONS OF COPS EVERYWHERE. There were cops everywhere. Did I mention that there were cops everywhere? Because there were. Cops in cruisers, cops on foot, cops on horseback, cops riding motorcycles. I’ve been to many protests in my life, but I have never seen a police presence of that magnitude. Not even close. Hundreds of them. Thousands. So many that it made me wonder how large the police force in NYC really is (I looked it up–God Bless the Internet!–wikipedia says 34,500).
The ones around Liberty Square looked very pissed off. Usually, most of them are approachable and somewhat relaxed (as relaxed as cops ever get–which is not very. Trust me, I know). They weren’t chatting with each other. Nothing. I said thanks to one who was directing traffic and he looked at me like my dog had just crapped on his living room carpet.
The protesters were pissed right back. They weren’t relaxed or chatting with each other, either. They seemed very strained. On two different occasions, I saw puddles (no exaggeration) of fresh, bright red blood on the pavement. I guess I could have taken a photo, but I was self-conscious about it. It seemed like a jerky, voyeuristic thing to do. So I didn’t do it. I did think it was weird that nobody was cleaning it up. Spilled blood is a public health hazard.
I talked to a few people. They said that there’d been confrontations with the police all day. Then the police had ringed the perimeter of the park, forbidding people to enter or exit. Everyone thought that mass arrests were imminent. That scared people. Then they got furious.
|approaching Foley Squre…see the heads of the crowd?|
It was dark when I got to Foley Square around 5:15 PM. I’d never been there before, but I found my way by following the streams of people. I was passed by a contingent of police on horseback. The horses were beautiful. They looked incongruous among the glass skyscrapers. I like the sound horses make when they walk. I looked at the metal hose shoes on the bottom of their hooves. I have horse shoes on the bottom of my boots, too. The kind soldiers wore in World War I (I think there should be more written about that war. Why isn’t more written about that war? It was tremendously significant.).
Foley Square was packed! There must have been 20,000, 30,00 people there. As I edged around the parameter of the crowd, craning my neck to see, I didn’t notice the police pull up behind me. It happened really fast. I guess that was intentional. A couple dozen of them ran right up to the crowd on motorcycles and braked to a halt. One of them was not two feet away from me. He had blonde eyebrows and a complexion like my own. His face was red, though. He looked pissed.
The crowd, including myself, tightened and drew back, like a school of fish. Holy shit! I thought.
A few people started shouting at them. One of the shouters was a young woman immediately to my left. She had brown hair and was wearing a hooded coat.
I made eye contact with the officer in front of me and asked, “What do you want?”
“Get onto the sidewalk!” he shouted.
An eminently reasonable request! I looked down and saw that, indeed, I was standing on blacktop (I think this was Centre Street). I immediately nodded at him, put my camera in my pocket and made for the curb. I don’t think anybody else heard him, however.
The woman who was standing next to me shouted, “What are you going to do, run us over? Are you going to run us over?”
Oh wow, I thought. That is probably not a good idea. I’d looked that cop in the eyes, and I could tell that he meant business. He was serious as a heart as a heart attack.
“Go ahead! Run us over!” I heard the woman shouting.
When I got to the curb, I heard everyone around me shout or hiss in breath. I looked back and saw the police falling on the crowd, including the girl who’d been standing beside me. I have to hand it to them: the move looked very professional. No hesitation. Overwhelming force. They worked in coordination with one another. Fast, economical movements. They looked like they did this sort of thing all day.
The woman shouter’s arm was being twisted around her back and she was forced belly-down on the pavement. She had zero chance. She was small and weak. She was cuffed in the blink of an eye. The cop kept his body weight on her, pressing her down. It looked like it hurt. It was totally excessive. She was shouting. Everyone around was shouting. While we stared, streams of cops walked in fast. Some of them, dressed in riot gear, formed a line. Others assisted in the arrests (they seemed to be picking people at random–whoever was within reach). Others carried hand-held video cameras and documented the crowds and the arrests. One of them was right in front of me. He was looking at the video capture screen of his camera; his concentration was intense but otherwise his face was expressionless. Like I said, the operation was very professional. Very well-executed.
I thought: Jesus, these guys could kill us all!
They could have, if they intended to. Would have been easy pickings.
I have never had that thought before. It was a totally novel experience. Still wondering what to make of it. I was definitely afraid, but it was more than that. It was several emotions at once. I’ll come back to it later if I can–probably in another post (though–note to self–if I do, I should do it today, while the feelings are still fresh).
All of a sudden, via cell phone and iPhone, a zillion cameras were documenting the action. People were filming the police, who were filming the protesters. It was weird.
“The whole world is watching!” some people shouted. Also, “Shame! Shame!”
The cop in front of me, with the camera, did not look ashamed. He didn’t look like he was feeling anything at all, other than ‘It is imperative that I film this as well as possible.’ He was a youngish guy, about my age, maybe younger. He was Asian. My height. Looked slim, but it was hard to tell because of his uniform.
Then, the chant picked up: “This is what a police state looks like! This is what a police state looks like! This is what a police state looks like!” Camera flashes everywhere. More police had brought in bright lights to aid them and their photography. The arrested protesters, once restrained and subdued (not that there was much resistance), were quickly lifted up and brought to paddy wagons.
I took out my crappy camera and took a few pics. It made me feel like a tool, so I didn’t take many. That’s not to say that I don’t believe that people should have documented the arrests. That is all well and good.
Sorry that the photos are not good. I am a mediocre photographer in the best of circumstances. When I got home and looked at the pics, I saw that most of them were of people taking pics.
To be continued…right now, I have to go to work!!!