Making Safer Spaces: Occupy Wall Street Addresses Questions of Security at Zuccotti Park
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Rumors of a possible eviction of Occupy Wall Street began late in the afternoon last Thursday, right after Mayor Bloomberg alleged that the occupiers at Liberty Plaza – formerly Zuccotti Park – had refused to report a rape at the occupation last Saturday, October 29th. But members of the Safer Spaces working group have strongly refuted Bloomberg's assertions and attempts to smear the occupation:
“[When] the survivor decided to make a report to the police and to push for a criminal investigation and prosecution... supporters from OWS accompanied her to the police station, and will continue to support her throughout the legal process... we were troubled at the time of her report that responding police officers appeared to be more concerned by her political involvement in OWS than her need for assistance after a traumatic incident of sexual violence... It is reprehensible to manipulate and capitalize on a tragedy like this to discredit a peaceful political movement.”
The question of how safe Liberty Plaza is – and for whom – has consumed occupiers and critics for weeks. With Bloomberg and his ad hoc protest committee within City Hall seizing on the issue of public safety as rationale for breaking up the protests, occupiers are working overtime to hold the park from threat of eviction, as well as to prove to the City that they are capable of keeping their own peace. That's meant addressing reports of sexual assault, along with rumors that NYPD are directing the homeless, drug users, and people struggling with mental illness to the park, and grappling with how to effectively prevent violence without relying on the kinds of policing that have been used against the occupation. Where once the occupation was thought of as its own demand, now the demands of how to keep occupiers safe dominate their days.
Responding to Crisis
Early last Tuesday evening in the medic tent, you could find about a half-dozen people – some new to the park and just wanting to help, some who have been here for weeks – calmly bustling around, laying out remedies for stress, cold, and aches, and making themselves available to anyone who just needed someone to talk to. In front of the tent, a woman who had only arrived at the occupation a few hours earlier staffed a table that served as a triage. “I'm in the process of moving,” she told me, “and I thought, I should just bring these things down here. Plus I have EMT training.” A shy-looking man in a trenchcoat and oversized backpack approached the table slowly, asking for hand sanitizer and then lingering for a moment to collect himself.
Behind the table, there was a small, more private seating area with camp chairs. An occupier came through looking for acupuncture to soothe an aching back, and was welcomed into the tent. A fresh pizza was delivered to the volunteer crew, which brought a friendly German Shepherd mix out of the tent. “That's Zephyr, our service and psychotherapy dog,” said Lucius, who was returning to Liberty after a few days at Occupy New Haven. He's a social worker who first came to the occupation about two weeks ago to provide administrative and process-oriented support, but found himself involved in the mental health team instead. “There's just an ambient stress, being part of the occupation. It became clear to me that the primary need here is to keep this community safe and secure and to assist those in need.”
Contrast that with a comment that ran in The New York Times, from occupier and security team member Hero Vincent, when asked about the increasing numbers of people coming to the park looking for free food and clothes and other necessities: