Observations of the Eviction of Occupy Wall Street
Occupy Wall Street was just evicted from Zuccotti Park. Violently and abruptly, using military tactics on non-violent protesters. The peaceful Occupiers have been replaced with an occupying army of NYPD riot police, vans, helicopters, and police cars. A stranger who walked down Broadway or Nassau right now would think that terrorist attack or foreign invasion was imminent, not that a couple hundred citizens were exercising their acknowledged rights to peacefully protest.
Today’s lesson, or really the lesson of the last two months, is the sheer amount of force that the state is willing to deploy against its own citizenry: helicopters, sound cannons, tear gas, a division of armed police, barricades, shuttered subways and bridges, restrictions on the press. One begins to question whether anyone even goes through the motions of taking seriously the naive and innocent ideas of dignified citizenship, meaningful democracy, and a self-ruling population anymore. What type of nation is willing to deploy and threaten such violence against a group that never once been responsible for serious violence, against whom the biggest complaint has involved drumming? The chant, “whose streets, our streets,” seems so sad, as it should be brutally clear by now that the streets are not ours, nor are the sidewalks, public parks, plazas or walkways. They belong to the 1% and their paid lackeys.
The arrogance of the police, the ubiquity of state violence, the dereference expected for the most arbitrary of commands: earlier generations of Americans associated these things with Czarist Russia or Absolutist Germany. This wasn’t supposed to happen in the Lincoln Republic, with Whitman’s haughty democrats who demand the President doffs his cap to them.
I was sitting in my couch, watching Hulu in my underwear when I saw over facebook that the eviction was happening. Shit, I thought, and threw on a sweatshirt and jeans, heading out less in righteous anger than in disappointed fatalism. But I could already tell something was wrong when I got to the 4th Ave and 9th St. Subway stop in Park Slope to get on the R train. There were 3 cop cars waiting by the entrance, a cop on the stairwell, and 2 walking the platform. I’ve long noticed the difference in atmosphere between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. The disease hadn’t yet spread to Brooklyn, and the fear, fed by thousands of glassy eyed police and soldiers, isn’t present. Brooklyn had felt normal, not like Prague circa 1968. Or at least it had. The culture of paranoia or fear is spreading to our boroughs now as well.
Getting off at Cortland, by the half completed Freedom Tower, there were barricades and riot police everywhere. The smell of pepper spray in the air. The word “freedom,” has been so degraded and emptied of meaning that it takes effort to feel the absurdity of a city celebrating “freedom,” while so desperately ensuring that its own citizens enjoy nothing of the sort.
There were a couple of hundred confused people milling around north of Zuccotti on Broadway. Above, of course, was the omnipresent police helicopter with its ominous Eye of Sauron light. At one point a couple of hundred protesters decided to march north. They took Broadway, collected at Foley Square for a bit, and then led the police on a wide chase uptown through Soho. Two kids are tackled and violently wrestled to the ground, one almost run over by a speeding cop car, all to catch the fiend who overturned a garbage can in front of Uniqlo. In order to prevent us from blocking traffic, the cops, of course, have completely occupied the street, thereby blocking traffic.
Eventually we end up back in Foley Square, where a GA is trying to get itself off the ground. Looking for coffee, we wander back to Broadway and Pine, where the mood is uglier. Protesters face off against a line of riot cops; this seems to be where the drunks have collected. Someone with a bandana covering his face starts letting the air out of parked police cars. Back to Foley, where there are rumors that the Unions will be mobilizing at 7.
This whole time, the NYPD has completely blacked out the press. Not only were mainstream news outlets like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal prevented from getting close to the eviction, but they even had created a no-fly zone over lower Manhattan, so that newscopters couldn’t see anything. Twitter reports journalists being beaten and shoved by cops. No right to assembly peaceful to petition, no free speech, no free press; Bloomberg just needed to shut down a church or Mosque somewhere tonight to have invalidated every last word of the First Amendment.
At 5:30, I take my leave, and as I walk worth street towards East Broadway and the F train that will take me home, I see some of the police vans with arrested protesters in them. I yell some encouraging things and then move on.They appear to be having some sort of discussion amongst themselves. Democracy lives on somewhere.
Chinatown is coming alive as I walk down to the subway. I always find New York at this time of morning particularly inspiring; the food carts being unloaded, the smell of bakeries, the calm quiet. I remember how much I love this city, how much there is to fight for. How beautiful it will be when we can walk it as free Americans and not cringe in fear. When cops can’t “stop and frisk” every person of color who looks at them the wrong way, when people can assembly peacefully and aren’t presumed to be criminals, when the police remember they work for us, we don’t exist for them. I think of what better patriots—even if I doubt they would use that word themselves—those protesters are than the cowards hiding behind the glass shields and sitting in the mayor’s office.