New York police officers arrested at least 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters late Saturday afternoon, including a freelance reporter for the New York Times, for straying off the sidewalk and onto the roadway in the midst of a march on Brooklyn Bridge. Most were released early Sunday morning after being issued citations for disorderly conduct and court summons, the BBC reports.
The march of over 1,000 protesters began around 3:30 pm ET Saturday, the two-week anniversary of the beginning of the movement. According to the Occupy Wall Street website, the arrests began around 5:00 pm. The police shut down the bridge, came up behind the body of marchers and began using orange mesh barriers to corral the protesters. By about 8:40 pm, at least 400 protesters had been arrested, the website reported.
Though police maintained the protesters had ignored their warnings to stay on the bridge’s pedestrian walkway and were arrested for impeding traffic, some witnesses said police ahead of the march stepped out onto the roadway deliberately to mislead protesters into the middle of the street for arrest, what they deemed a “trap.”
Video of the incident uploaded to YouTube does indeed show some officers stepping onto the roadway ahead of the main group of the march, though it is unclear exactly why they were doing so - if just to avoid the marchers, to get into place to stop them from walking onto the roadway, or to lead them there.
Police spokesman Paul Browne told the New York Daily News that the protesters had been warned multiple times not to walk onto the roadway.
“Some complied and took the walkway without being arrested,” Browne said. “Others proceeded on the Brooklyn-bound vehicular roadway. The latter were arrested.”
“The cops watched and did nothing, indeed, seemed to guide us onto the roadway,” Jesse A. Myerson, a media coordinator for Occupy Wall Street, told The Times.
The Times’ City Room blog also highlights this video of the confrontation, which shows protesters chanting “let them go,” and “the whole country’s watching” right as the arrests began.
Freelance reporter Natasha Lennard was among those arrested at the bridge confrontation. She had been on assignment for the The Times and live-tweeted throughout the ordeal.
New York alt-weekly The Village Voice criticized the Times for selectively editing its coverage to side with the police over the protesters.
Despite the tension, the incident remained mostly peaceful, at least as far as mass arrests go, according to eyewitnesses.
“I didn’t see any scuffles, antagonizing, resisting arrest,” said Joshua Stephens, one of the marchers, who related his view of the ordeal to The Huffington Post. The only thing dramatic I saw were people climbing the bridge like Turk 182-style. That was the only drama I saw…”
These and other sympathetic reports from The Guardian and Forbes indicate the protesters’ efforts to penetrate what they had deemed to be a mainstream “media blackout” on their activities appears to be working. In some ways, the protest has become as much a media war as it has a physical occupation.
The protesters have vowed to continue their fight against what all broadly agree is an inequitable state of affairs in American politics and the economy, which the interests of the wealthiest one percent favored at the expense of the rest of the population (The unifying theme of the protests has been: “We Are the 99 Percent.”)
As Reuters reports: “Members of the anti-Wall Street group have vowed to stay at the camp through the winter.”
Whether they can or not remains to be seen, specifically because the park where they’ve established basecamp to sleep, eat and plan their demonstrations, Zuccotti Park, in the Financial District, is privately owned but must remain open to the public under New York city law.
Still, as Reuters notes: “In a statement issued last week the company said it was extremely concerned about the conditions that have been created in the park and was working with city officials to restore the park to its intended purpose.” The protesters “facilitators,” those who have taken a de-facto leadership role, have told reporters that they have contingency plans in case they get booted from the park.