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Inside the Wall Street Protests: An Eyewitness Account of Police Crackdown on Peaceful Demonstrators

Protesters from the week-old "occupation" in New York's financial district were arrested, penned up, and Maced on Saturday when the NYPD showed up to their march.

Deep in the belly of the beast, among the financial district’s skyscrapers, next to derivatives traders in business suits and Rolex watches, you will find a one-block large democratic society, governed by consensus, whose features include free food, free professional childcare, an arts and culture area, medical and legal teams, a media center, constant music, a library and a stand with refreshments for the many police stationed to supervise the area. This is the one-week-old occupation of Wall Street, located at Liberty Plaza Park.

A group of protestors from the camp ventured outside the park and marched on Union Square Saturday morning, and around 100 of them were arrested. Police sprayed peaceful protestors in the face with pepper spray, threw them to the ground and assaulted them with elbows, dragged a woman around by the hair, jumped over barricades to grab and rough up young people, and, when all was said and done, laughed to themselves triumphantly. This is exactly the sort of violence and brutality American authorities routinely condemn when perpetrated against non-violent civilians demonstrating for democracy in Middle Eastern dictatorships, even as they employ horrifying cruelty right here.

Filmmaker Marisa Holmes was recently in Egypt, documenting the revolutionary movement there in its attempt to transform the ouster of Hosni Mubarak into a democratic society. Inspired by the movement there, she became involved with the group organizing the Wall Street occupation, hoping to emulate the Egyptians’ success in mobilizing the public to wrest their country from the brutal forces in power. Video shows police abusing her, confiscating her belongings and falsely alleging that she had resisted arrest.

In the aftermath of the mass arrests, Liberty Plaza was gripped by an agitated nervousness. Would the cops move in on us in an attempt to seize the square? What was in store for our comrades? Some of them texted people back at camp, giving brief glimpses into the fate they were meeting – a concussion incurred from police brutality on a marcher denied access to medical attention, a group locked in a van parked at Police Plaza, people clubbed about the head and chest with police batons.

As the reports came in and people in the camp began to see video and photos of the violence, nervousness turned to anger. These were our friends who had been brutalized for no reason apart from their earnest desire to avail themselves of their guaranteed First Amendment rights in order to call for a more just, more humane, more equal America. One young man implored those assembled, “There are people right now bleeding in handcuffs! Let’s march!”

As tempers rose, the NYPD let us know that they were, as one friend put it, “playing for keeps,” standing shoulder to shoulder and occupying every inch of the block of Broadway adjacent to the square, displaying the orange nets the same police force had used to corral demonstrators at 2004’s Republican National Convention. During a shift change, as the sun dropped behind the buildings to the west, dozens of cop cars, sirens and lights blazing, began to circle the plaza, intimidating its denizens. Rumors began to circulate that the cops were waiting for cover of dark to invade the square and avoid the watchful eye of the media.

After all, they had targeted the internal media team in the arrests, capturing, among others, Marisa. That would have been bad enough, but the cops stationed at Liberty Plaza were also spotted harassing the mainstream media and prohibiting news vans from parking in convenient locations. (One candidate response to having been busted being sadistic and pitiless by the media is to stop being sadistic and pitiless; another is to eliminate the media).

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