Occupy Wall Street  
comments_image Comments

New York Becoming a Police State? Occupy Wall Street Meets the "Ring of Steel" at Liberty Square

NYPD's metal barricades have militarized the peaceable occupation at Liberty Square and contributed to the creeping homeland security state ethos.

They stand like sentinels. Rain or shine, they’re always present at the Occupy Wall Street protests in Liberty Square. They outnumber the women and men in the drum circle. They outnumber the food-cart vendors. They even outnumber the cops. They never take bathroom breaks. And their own occupation of the block-long, half-acre site has been going on for weeks without so much as a pause. They go by the name FX-7 -- metal barricades that, locked together, form a ring of steel separating Zuccotti Park from the rest of the city.

On any given day, approximately 150 steel barricades form a solid cordon, except for openings at the four corners, around the occupied park. Approximately four feet tall and seven feet in length, with 14 spindles, each of these the dull gray barricades made by Friedrichs Custom Manufacturing of New Orleans are a ubiquitous presence and represent some of the most tangible but overlooked evidence of an overwhelming police response to the Occupy Wall Street movement. They’re also a potential rallying point, a distinct issue that the park’s activist occupiers, neighborhood residents and those working in the financial district can see eye to eye about.

A Manhattan-Sized Ring of Steel

“It’s one of our standard models,” Chris Friedrichs, the vice president of Friedrichs Custom Manufacturing told AlterNet when asked about the metal barriers at Zuccotti Park and surrounding streets. “We’ve been making barricades since 1968,” he said in a recent phone interview, noting that the New York City Police Department has been a customer for more than 20 years. Just how many barricades the NYPD has in its inventory is unclear. “It’s in the thousands and they’ve bought them from other venders, too. At times, they’ve bought thousands,” Friedrichs told me. “They use a lot of them.”

The NYPD failed to respond to AlterNet’s requests for an estimate of the number of barricades in its inventory. A July 2003 New York Times article noted that the NYPD had more than 9,000 of the metal fences -- close to 12 miles of metal barricades, just a mile short of the length of Manhattan Island.

At that time, according to incomplete data maintained by the Mayor's Office, the department had already awarded more than $172,000 in contracts to Friedrichs Custom Manufacturing. All told, not counting thousands of barriers purchased from third-party vendors, the NYPD and Friedrichs have done at least $646,000 worth of business since then, for a total of $818,471 in contracts since 2002. (The police department’s most recent deal with Friedrichs came in 2008, when it signed a $123,282 contract with the company. ) All of this suggests the police department may have enough metal barricades to lock down Manhattan Island’s 32-mile perimeter in a ring of steel.

Years ago, the NYPD used to employ blue wooden sawhorses, with “Police Line Do Not Cross” emblazoned on them in white, as its primary crowd control device at parades and protests. At Occupy Wall Street, the only evidence of these past impediments recently was a single disassembled wooden horse lying at the foot of an NYPD Sky Watch tower -- a panopticon-like surveillance booth on hydraulic legs that observes the park from across the street and two stories up. As if to add insult to injury, the broken-down sawhorse sat behind a cordon of metal barricades, some of the hundreds more FX-7s, in addition to the 150 ringing the Liberty Square, that also line the streets surrounding the park. Chris Friedrichs says that while sawhorses are useful for vehicular traffic, his models are superior for containing people. “It provides better coverage from top to bottom,” he told me. “For crowd control you really need a more fence-like structure.”