People were probably aware of specific acts that would get them arrested. Sit-ins to block streets and entrances were met with mass arrests, which was no surprise. Police used, the now standard, excessive force in dealing with non-violent protests. To break through human chains where peaceful protesters linked arms, police punched and beat them. When arresting protesters there is little, if any attempt to do so without slamming them to the ground, jumping on top of them with several officers, and tightening the plastic zip-cuffs to cut off circulation.
Most participants, however, including myself, were trying to avoid the early morning arrests. I mean, who wants to be in jail with so much excitement planned for the day? Many people also had to go to work the next day. Personally, I had planned a teach-in on the one train with a small group of organizers in West Harlem and I volunteered to speak at it. I literally promised them I would not get arrested. To keep my promise, and against my natural inclinations, I tried to move along every time the police presence foreshadowed arresting time. It’s always a struggle to leave any compatriots behind, but one thing I’m learning from this movement is the importance of checking my ego and allowing others to make their sacrifices without feeling like I need to protect or join them.
As a result of my morning fluidity, I ended up following a small march up Broadway, passing the iconic bull at Exchange Street. It was a small march, probably under sixty people. As an artistic blockade of New Street, an access point to Wall Street, one group had held large cardboard paintings of houses and buildings. When held, side-by-side, these paintings created a wall, symbolically sending the message “Wall Street is closed”. These folks became the front row of our small march as we searched for the next protest intersection that needed support.
As we marched up the sidewalk of Broadway, riot-ready police sprang to formation. Helmets on and batons drawn, they formed a three officer-deep line across the sidewalk, blocking our way. We stood in our lines, face-to-face with the police lines, in what was a standard police-protester face-off. We basically just stood there. We want to walk forward, and have a legal right to do so, but the police are in our way. What could we do? We are not going to push through them and provoke violence. We could walk back the other way, but that might be too easy of a submission. We cannot walk away from the police every time they block us or all our marches would just amount to a bunch of people walking around in circles all day. Why should the police be able to dictate where we walk when we are not breaking a law and when there is no justification for their blockage? So… we wait.
After several minutes of standing, a heavy-set, white shirt officer walked up behind the line of riot police and shouted that we needed to walk the other way or they were going to start arresting us. This order took a couple of seconds to process. Why do we have to walk the other way? What is the reason for this demand? All things considered, it seemed like everyone was willing to take this loss and walk away so we could continue with the larger effort throughout the day. Everyone, including me, began filing out. However, seconds after the white-shirt demanded we leave, the police began to storm through our front line of cardboard-bearing marchers and pulling on their signs. A bit of a struggle ensued as protesters tried to hold onto their signs, which the police had no justification for taking. One officer tore at my sign. I pulled it back exclaiming, “I’m allowed to have a sign.” He replied, “you are allowed to have it but you have to keep walking.” The only reason I had stopped walking was his pulling on my sign challenging my inertia, however, I followed the order and “kept walking,” to avoid arrest. While I walked, I pulled out my cellphone to capture the police escalations that I knew could lead to violent arrests. While walking, I tried to film the scuffles behind me.
The white shirt officer that pushed through the line said “grab him. He’s a camera. He’s camera.” An officer tried to grab at my arm, which I pulled away and said “I’m walking the way you told me to. I’m not resisting.” She said, “keep walking” as she did not appear to be attempting to arrest me. At this moment, the white shirt cop barreled through her and another officer and grabbed my arm, obviously intent on arresting me. I said, “Why are you arresting me? I am NOT resisting you!” To which he replied, “you’re resisting now!” As he pulled me violently to the ground gashing my arm on the pavement and he and two other officers jumped on me to “hold me down.” All of this was unnecessary as, after a failed attempt to brace my fall, I, face-down, simply and peacefully put my hands behind my back.
I have been speaking adamantly against the NYPD’s infringement on the first amendment rights of speech, assembly, and press. I believe strongly in our rights as American citizens. I am willing to accept limitations on these freedoms only when the use of them infringes others’ freedoms. I am not willing to subordinate my, or anyone else’s freedoms, because someone disagrees or is inconvenienced by and how they are used. No American should tolerate this.
I defend the protesters because of what I have seen happening to us. I know, from actually being there, that our actions are almost entirely nonviolent. When someone uses violence, I think they should be arrested. But this was personal. I know I am allowed to express my opinion nonviolently, I know I am allowed to walk on the sidewalk, I know that it was not I or my fellow protesters blocking the sidewalk, but the tight line of police. There was not even pedestrian traffic around to block. Everyone on that sidewalk was either a cop or a protester. I know I should not have to walk “the other way” just because some angry cop with a hatred for informed people, or just on a power trip, tells me I have to. But I did. I did follow his unjust request. I swallowed my pride, and walked away. In spite of this, I was arrested. My voice, my right to express my beliefs, and my freedom were stripped away from me for 32 hours for no other reason than that my voice, what I have to say, was an inconvenience to some.
This should be clear to everyone: you do not have freedom if those freedoms are subjected to the will of the government. You do not have freedom of speech if the government prevents your speech when you say something they do not want you to say or if you say it too loud. You do not have freedom to assemble if you are told how, when, and how many people are allowed to assemble. Or if the assemblies are disrupted when the message of dissent is too strong. You do not have freedom of the press when the press can be kept away from seeing and filming what is happening at the whim of the police.
Whether or not you agree with Occupy Wall Street, every American should be outraged at the affront by police forces around the country on our fundamental American freedoms.