New York Becoming a Police State? Occupy Wall Street Meets the "Ring of Steel" at Liberty Square
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Good Fences Make Angry Neighbors
“Last year we told over 2 million people where to go…and not go,” reads a caption superimposed on a photograph of its barriers posted on Friedrichs Custom Manufacturing’s Facebook page. At Liberty Square, the purpose of the barricades is far from clear. “It’s to keep people from spilling into the street and blocking traffic,” a spokesman from the NYPD’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information told AlterNet.
But to anyone who has spent much time around Zuccotti Park, it’s plain to see that people often walk on the street-side of the barriers to avoid crowds on the sidewalk. For hours on end, police -- often white-shirted superiors -- will stand in the street near or leaning on the barricades, while others -- generally blue-clad subordinates -- do the same inside the barricades. Many of the barriers themselves actually sit in the street, further narrowing thoroughfares already constricted by police vehicles and parked cars.
"The NYPD has put police barricades…all over the financial district. So we are getting a tremendous number of calls at the Community Board office dealing with access to residential buildings and businesses," Julie Menin, the chair of Community Board 1, an advisory committee that deals with land use and zoning matters told WNYC, the local public radio station, earlier this month.
Late last week, at a meeting of the board’s Quality of Life and Financial District committees, local residents sounded off about the NYPD’s metal maze in the financial district. “My biggest issue is the barricades,” local resident Sabrina Espinal was quoted as saying by the Tribeca Trib. “I don’t care if they [the protesters] stay in that park 'til kingdom come. I just want the barricades down.” When Metro asked Wall Street workers about fencing, they heard much the same. “I hate the barricades. It’s like we’re caged in,” said Janice Weinman, a 38-year-old hospitality worker on Wall Street. “They have to give us our sidewalk back.”
Their newest neighbors in Zuccotti Park have experienced even worse. “Several arrests were made for crossing barricades or attempting [to cross them] on Wall Street,” Tyler, a spokesperson for Occupy Wall Street told AlterNet.
An NYPD spokesman refused to comment by phone on laws in regard to jumping, moving or otherwise circumventing police barriers. Multiple emails to the department on the subject of the metal fencing went unanswered as well. “Leaning on or loitering near barricades in Liberty Park leads to immediate warnings by police to move away,” Tyler told me. This reporter has experienced the same response by police on multiple occasions.
On a recent day, I leaned against a barricade on Broadway to scribble down some notes when an officer in a rain slicker approached and told me I couldn’t stand in that spot and had to move along. I walked about eight feet down the block, toward the corner of Liberty Street, and took up a post next to some beefy, middle-aged men in jeans and white sneakers who just happened to be loitering in the same location for close to an hour without harassment. About 10 minutes later, the same officer approached. Hadn’t she told me I needed to stop blocking the sidewalk? I countered by asking about my neighbors. “Do these gentlemen have to move, too?” She sheepishly announced that everyone needed to move along, at which time the men produced their detective shields. “You’re violating my rights, officer,” one of them joked to her as he stayed put and I ambled on.
I asked Chris Friedrichs what he thought about the barricades being used to pen in the Occupy Wall Street protests. “We make a product and we sell it. It’s similar to any manufacturer; if you sell a car and someone drives drunk in it, it’s not your responsibility,” he told me. “Almost any product can be used for good or bad, so most barricades are used in good situations to help protect people from getting into harms way.”