New York Churches Shelter Occupy Protesters, Now Monitored By New York Police
With Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) ratcheting up police crackdowns on Occupy Wall Street this week, the New York Times reports that several churches in New York City are sheltering protesters who can no longer stay in Zucotti Park. About 46 protesters spent Wednesday night in the United Methodist Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew. However, instead of respecting the sanctuary, police in plainclothes are entering churches to monitor their conduct.
According to church officials, two police officers (one later identified as belonging to the intelligence division) asked to use the bathroom but instead “entered the sanctuary, one remaining near the door while the other advanced down the aisle, apparently counting the demonstrators in the pews.” Then, one officer went downstairs to a homeless women’s shelter and “asked for information about who was sleeping there” without identifying himself or showing his badge. The church’s Rev. James Karpen called the police actions “invasive”:
“It is disconcerting that they would actually enter the sanctuary,” said the Rev. James Karpen, known as Reverend K, senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, on West 86th Street. “Here we had offered hospitality and safety, which is our business as a church; it just felt invasive.” [...]
“They are welcome to come in if they just say who they are,” Mr. Karpen said. “We have never had that kind of issue with the police before. Usually, they are very respectful of church-state issues.”
Church officials said two other police intelligence officers visited earlier in the day, claiming they were following up on “an anonymous report of vandalism,” which, according to the church, had not taken place. The officers warned associate Pastor Siobhan Sargent that they did not want anything to happen to the church and that that was a “risk” with the protesters sleeping there. Sargent replied, “that’s what the church is for.”
While this degree of confrontation did not occur at the other churches in the area, the Judson Memorial Church said “several plainclothes police officers had entered the hall where about 100 protesters were sheltering, but elected not to ask them who they were.” This church’s Rev. Michael Ellick said, “We thought if the police want to come in, then let them spy, then let them look.”