New York Becoming a Police State? Occupy Wall Street Meets the "Ring of Steel" at Liberty Square
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To the Barricades
Friedrichs says the police like the FX-7 because “it’s a lightweight but strong design; lightweight helps them move them around very quickly and easily deploy them quickly.” And the NYPD has certainly deployed them with ease. Like the Sky Watch tower, dozens of regular police vehicles, surveillance and communication trucks, helicopters, scores of police officers, stationary cameras and others means of control, the NYPD’s metal barricades have militarized the peaceable occupation at Liberty Square and contributed to the creeping homeland security state ethos that has been growing steadily in the city since 9/11 and was supercharged during the 2004 Republican National Convention. For years, however, the police were generally immune from much criticism due to deference accorded them in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center.
A decade after 9/11, however, heavy-handed tactics toward nonviolent Occupy Wall Street protesters, from a pepper-spray attack on young women to mass arrests as well as a long succession of unrelated scandals (including the “ Mafia Cops,” the so-called rape cops, and more recent allegations that police planted drugs on people to meet arrest quotas) have opened the NYPD to increasing criticism from average citizens.
Now growing numbers in the financial district see the police, not the protesters, as negatively impacting their community.
“The protesters are at Zuccotti Park,” April Condell, who is forced to weave through the police barricades every day, told Metro. “The NYPD is actually occupying Wall Street.” At the community board meeting, Vincent Alessi, who co-manages a nearby steakhouse, said the metal barricades were hurting his business. "That's the NYPD," said Alessi. "The protesters have been peaceful. They march by the restaurant, no one causes any damage."
“We hope our barricades are used to protect people,” Chris Friedrichs told me. But many New Yorkers who live or work in the area, like their new neighbors occupying Liberty Square, don’t see the metal barriers that way. Perhaps the clearest evidence is the resolution passed at the October 20 community board meeting. “CB #1 calls on all the elected officials representing Lower Manhattan, OWS, the city and all major stakeholders to come together to address the following…Remove some of the barricades that the NYPD has erected that are blocking access to home and work.” Later, the resolution was amended to read: “Remove all non-essential barricades.”
Given the clear conflict between the NYPD’s contentions about its metal barriers and reality when it comes to penning in protest in and around Liberty Square, it remains to be seen if the police can demonstrate if any of the barricades have ever been “essential.”