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Occupy Wall Street: People Power vs. the Police State

The NYPD has erected a ring of steel around Liberty Plaza, but Occupy Wall Street vows to resist.

"The more, the merrier,” was how the white-shirted police inspector put it as he stood on the periphery of Liberty Plaza while activist and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello played for Occupy Wall Street protesters on Thursday afternoon.

“More” was the operative word. While the NYPD commander was glad-handing a elderly protester who was asking about his thoughts on all the people in the jam-packed park, it could have been a commentary on his department’s presence. The periphery of Liberty Plaza, formally known as Zuccotti Park, resembles an armed camp with surveillance equipment, police vehicles, armed officers, and metal barricades ringing a city square filled with unarmed activists, who openly advocate non-violence. The response is as disproportionate as it is superfluous, a point driven home by the utter apathy displayed by many of the security forces on the scene…today. Tomorrow, the occupiers face the real possibility that the overwhelming police presence will spring to life in order to evict them, end the four-week people’s occupation and snuff out the new society they’re building.

The NYPD’s Numbers Game

The sheer numbers tell the story when it comes to the NYPD’s response to the Occupy Wall Street movement. On this misty morning as the park was just coming to life, there were 22 uniformed police officers, as well as two white-shirted commanders, already ringing the square. A rainbow coalition, men and women: Thompson, Brancaccio, Yusuff, Badillo, Jacob, Sanchez, Lagani, they stood looking disinterested, or texted on their smart phones or answered tourists’ questions, forming an intermittent chain of dark blue enforcers with little to enforce.

Their numbers were exceeded (and augmented) by the metal barricades that similarly ring the park, leaving openings only at the plaza’s four corners. Roughly 150 individual fences surround the park itself, counting those that are doubled up and can be used to seal the plaza entirely should the police decide to do so.

Along Liberty Street sit a phalanx of police vehicles that come and go, but mostly stay put. In front of One Liberty Plaza, the 54-story tower just north of the park (whose owners, Brookfield Properties, also own Zuccotti Park), I counted seven squad cars, two full-size police vans, one police minivan and one, to lapse into political incorrectness, “paddy wagon.” In most of these vehicles uniformed police officers sat talking on phones, texting, eating or dozing. Later in the morning, the total count had increased to 16 police vehicles, in addition to a number of unmarked cars, most of which proved to belong to police officers, too.

The police state ethos did not, however, end with the NYPD presence surrounding the park’s perimeter. Across Broadway and up Liberty Street, the security forces maintained a reserve contingent of 11 police cars, five police vans, and one paddy wagon from precincts all over the city: the 1st, 5th, 9th, 10th, 13th, 20th, 83rd, 94th(Brooklyn!), as well as the Fleet Services Division which oversees the NYPD’s inventory of cars. There was even a large NYPD Communications Division bus that sat in front of the century-old New York Chamber of Commerce building. Through the lone window not blocked by curtains I could see a sergeant, sitting and texting, while sipping from a juice bottle.

Spies Like Us

Even before the protesters began their occupation of the block-long, half-acre park of granite walls and honey-locust trees, the NYPD had a permanent presence on site. Just across the street, a fixed, black NYPD security camera provides the police with an all-seeing eye on the surrounding environs. Across the intersection from it, just above the sign for Liberty Street (and apparently with no intended irony), a large sign announces “NYPD Security Camera In Area.”

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