20 Arrested in NYC Saturday on Empty Sidewalk; Protest Opposed Foreclosure Settlement
As people around the country moved their money from the big banks to local banks and credit unions, hundreds in New York marched from Liberty Plaza to Foley Square and brought their anger over illegal foreclosures to the steps of government buildings.
There, they were greeted by a phalanx of police officers in a rush to block off the granite steps where just a month earlier many had stood to join the (permitted) labor rally in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street.
AlterNet's Tana Ganeva noted that while the marchers remained largely peaceful, the NYPD was still filming the standoff with protesters as more officers filed in with the orange nets that have become so familiar to the Occupiers and those covering their story.
The majority of the crowd remained in Foley Square itself, but the police bringing in the nets seemed to escalate the tensions--as an officer shouted through a bullhorn for people to disperse, the marchers began to chant "We are pedestrian traffic."
I moved across the street and stood on the edge of the fountain in the square to see overhead; from there I watched as two women were calmly escorted out in handcuffs and a member of the Granny Peace Brigade shouted at the officers that they should be ashamed of themselves.
Despite the commotion, the Occupiers attempted to keep the focus of their rally on the proposed foreclosure settlement. Zachary Lareche, a Brooklyn resident, told the story of his struggle to the protesters through the People's Mic. "For two years I've been struggling with my bank to make a modification. Every month it changes banks," he said.
The attempt to focus was continually interrupted by the scuffles across the street--police unfurled an orange net across the entire sidewalk and walked slowly across, forcing the protesters who were milling about off to the north of the building. At one point inside the net, a woman began screaming, and a man next to me leaned over to say "This is just bullying! See how they're bullying them? The police are just bullies. And you notice how we're right in front of the symbol of state power?"
The empty sidewalk, completely free of any "pedestrian traffic" in front of the empty building, was guarded on all sides by police with nets as the majority of the marchers finished their assembly and headed back to Liberty Plaza. One man in the street shouted "We are Occupy Wall Street! We are Occupy Oakland!" before disappearing into a circle of police.
As Foley Square emptied, we moved down the street to the corner of Centre St and Worth, where an orange net separated a row of protesters from a row of police; in the center was Sgt. Shamar Thomas, instantly recognizable from his YouTube video, shouting once again at the police that they should be ashamed of themselves for their reaction to unarmed protesters.
The standoff ended peacefully there, though, as the police took down their net to cheers from the protesters. As they left, I tried to ask a Community Affairs officer what the rationale for clearing the entire sidewalk was but all I got was a testy "No comment."
The New York Times reported:
Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said that Saturday’s order to clear the sidewalk “came after some of the protesters attempted to climb the stairs of the courthouse and protesters began chanting, ‘Take the steps; take the steps.’ ”
“Additionally,” he said, “ the volume of protesters made it difficult for others to walk safely on the sidewalk, causing people to spill into the street.”
It is unclear who made the decision to clear the sidewalk, but the move very clearly came after the steps of the courthouse had been very safely barricaded off from any attempt by protesters to climb the steps or reach the front of the (public) building. Additionally, as the Times noted, the sidewalk was far from full and there was plenty of space for pedestrians to walk by--until the NYPD came in with nets and drove everyone out.