On Saturday, October 15, protesters sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street movement occupied sites in cities across the globe—even Brooklyn. About 75 people, including Marty Markowitz, briefly gathered near the arch at Grand Army Plaza in the afternoon, penned into a narrow space at the curb where they waved signs and encouraged those across traffic at the more populated Farmer’s Market to join them.
The small space wasn’t exactly crowded; use of the Human Microphone seemed unnecessary, as the group was small enough to hear the shouting speakers. Attendees were largely Park Slope types: attractive young people, older parents, some small children, a few active seniors and eccentrics. The mood was light. A trumpet player and an accordionist played as organizers marched in, jazz-funeral style, with what they called Occupus—several blue garbage bags shaped like a cephalopod. “Stop occupying our space, Occupus!” one man shouted. “Everyone boo the occupus!”
Borough President Marty Markowitz arrived and shook a lot of hands. (Councilmember Steve Levin was also there.) The event wrapped up around 1pm, when many left for Manhattan; demonstrators planned to occupy Times Square later in the day.
By 5pm, 5,000 to 15,000 of them did, packing the sidewalks and pedestrian plazas of Broadway and Seventh Avenue like it was New Year’s Eve. Mashed together body-to-body with tourists and theatergoers throughout the evening, the protesters chanted—“Wall Street, Times Square! Occupy Everywhere!”—spontaneously applauded, danced, and beat drums, buckets, and tambourines. The mood was jubilant, rowdy but safe. In front of Sephora, a small sit-in watched several young ladies dance wildly as two women performed African-style chants. “This is what democracy looks like!” the crowd shouted. People near 43rd Street tried three times to get a wave going, but couldn’t get it to carry farther than half a block. At 45th Street, the crowd thickened until foot traffic came to a total standstill a block later. The rally extended several blocks farther north.
Police had begun denying access to the square. At 46th Street, they would allow very few people to enter from the east; well-dressed theatergoers had to show police their tickets in order to pass. Most others were refused entry.
Around 8pm, a group of several dozen protesters walked down the sidewalks of 46th Street from Sixth Avenue to enter the protest; an equally large group of police in riot gear, zip-tie cuffs dangling from their pants, pushed them back. “Turn around!” a white-shirt ordered through a megaphone. But many refused. Police formed a human barrier along the curb and eventually cut off the crowd from behind as they got in front of the Laura Pels Theatre; officers held their batons across their chests. “This is a public sidewalk!” the crowd chanted. “This is a peaceful protest!”
Forty-two people were arrested. (In total, police arrested 74 in Times Square that night.) Those not detained moved back to the corner of Sixth Avenue, where the sidewalks filled with people, spilling into traffic. NYPD trucks arrived to jeers. “Let them go!” the crowd roared as police loaded arrested protesters into the trucks. After threatening to arrest the crowd, police finally pushed it off the corners. Minutes later, on Fifth Avenue, three of the police trucks passed, sirens blaring.
Around 10pm, hundreds of protesters had relocated to Washington Square Park, where they’d rallied in the afternoon. They filled the fountain, debating through the Human Microphone (with a man translating into sign language) whether to defy ordinance and try to hold the park. Police presence steadily grew as the number of occupiers did; a white shirt circled the fountain, announcing through a megaphone that those who remained in the park after midnight could be subject to arrest. On the Human Microphone, one man urged everyone to consider the consequences of their actions; what would getting arrested trying to hold Washington Square achieve? “Are you against parks closing at midnight?” he asked. “Occupy Wall Street needs real estate,” he acknowledged, but he urged the crowd to find it strategically, not impulsively.
At 11:30, NYPD buses for transporting detainees surrounded the park, lights flashing. Ten minutes later, cops in riot gear amassed beneath the arch. Other officers gathered in groups at every access point to the park. Protesters scrawled the phone number of the National Lawyers Guild on their wrists. (The police take your cell phone when they arrest you.) With ten minutes to spare, a large exit march proceeded south, down Thompson Street, though dozens remained just outside the park to watch and protest the arrest of their fellow occupiers. They pleaded with police not to hurt those arrested and demanded stragglers be allowed to leave safely. A drummer kept an ominous beat.
Minutes after midnight, dozens of police moved into the park, surrounding the fountain, where those planning to stay had remained. Cops escorted legal advisers and news photographers out of the park. Then those outside the fences began to shame the police, both individually and as a group. “NYPD! Disobey your orders!” they chanted, reminding the officers that they were individuals with individual consciences. “Cops! Are! The 99 percent!” they chanted.
Video, released later by a journalist who stayed in the park, shows the ten protesters who remained sitting stoically around the fountain; one has a fiddle on which he scratches out “This Land is Your Land” as the others sing along. A community affairs officer approaches the group and asks them to leave; the cops just want to go home, he says. The fiddle scratching continues. A protester responds by reciting the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right of the people to peaceably assemble. A less patient white shirt shows up and kicks out the journalist. The ten were subsequently arrested.
Many police officers, including one carrying a clear plastic garbage bag filled with zip-tie handcuffs, were diverted to the park’s Thompson Street exit: some formed lines to block entrance to the park, others tried to disperse the raucous but non-violent crowd that filled the sidewalks. Eventually, police forced bystanders on the north side of Washington Square South to walk east. Then they tried to disperse the crowd on the southeast side, which led to at least two people getting shoved, grabbed, and possibly detained.
Half an hour later, several empty police buses sped down Houston Street, disappearing down Mott.
(Photos by Brennan Cavanaugh)