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Tuesday, November 15th, at 1ish in the morning, the New York Police Department removed the contents of Liberty Square in an attempt to end Occupy Wall Street. They succeeded in clearing the park of tens of thousands of dollars of personal and collective property and dozens of protesters who chose to stand and be arrested in defense of their Constitutional rights.
But they did not succeed, and cannot succeed, in ending Occupy Wall Street.
I’ve shot a bunch of videos and photographs in the last couple of weeks. Many of them were posted during the eviction itself. A couple came later Tuesday, after I was released from jail. Some were posted on Thursday during the spectacular day of action in celebration of Occupy’s 2-monthiversary. Some of them were reblogged to other sites, sometimes without attribution (which I don’t mind per say, but hope that folks will link to this more complete account).
All of them were in low quality compared to the admittedly-sort-of-crappy quality produced by my phone. In the interest of completion and of cementing my recollections before this crazy week fades into the future history of the movement, here’s the collection from the raid, and my explanations / larger story. In a future entry I’ll collect all my videos from #N17 in a similar format.
Spokescouncil, #OWS’ operations and logistical decision-making body, met Monday evening, November 14th, at 7:30pm in a space near Canal Street. While also directly democratic, Spokescouncil differs from the General Assembly in that is a process in which collectives participate, rather than individuals as in GA.
“Spokescouncil” is actually a general term, and this is the “Operations Spokescouncil”, but this particular spokescouncil is mandated by GA to take place in an indoors, publicly-accessible space with amplification. Thus, many of the people most committed to the occupation were outside the park that evening.
Whether choosing this night for eviction was a clever decision on the part of the NYPD or just a coincidence, we may never know.
Spokescouncil was very productive, but ended with some disruption, and a few folks lingered at the corner of Walker and Broadway to process. Lopey, Malik, an awesome dude whose name I can’t remember, Tim Pool, and that night’s Queering OWS spoke (as in ‘spokescouncil’), whose name may be Craig. George Machado was there too… and some other people. The conversation was about racism, and how to deal with it when it is raised as a concern within the OWS community. People eventually peeled off; “Craig” was headed back to the park, and I tagged along even though I expected just to hop on the subway and head home once I got there.
It wasn’t until I returned to Liberty Square that I realized I’d been pinged on Twitter by someone forwarding me @questlove’s now famous Paul Revere moment:
I was already across Broadway by the time I replied:
…And hadn’t even yet seen Questo’s original tweet:
@OccupyWallStNYC also followed-up:
One note: this exchange was plastered all over the Internet as proof that #OWS was too arrogant or even racist to heed Questo’s “Paul Revere Moment”, as many excited journos termed it. It’s a convenient theory, but no! We just weren’t onsite. Most of the folks who were at Liberty Square at the time were occupiers or other folks w/ no Internet access (and, remember, no electricity). As far as I know, I was the first one to follow up physically w/ Questlove’s warning, and I did it as soon as I heard about it (and before I even saw the actual tweet).
I jogged down Liberty to Maiden and:
I was still in denial, clearly. Kept jogging, and by the time I got to Water it was obvious what was happening:
I called several people at this point to sound the alarm, let Quinn Norton know what was happening, and headed back up Pine St to put a block between myself and the police. As I jogged up Pine, at every intersection I looked down to Maiden Lane and saw a stream of police vans, 5 passing during the time it took for me to cross each street, all the way up.
I made a right on Nassau. It was obvious already, but I knew for sure that it was really happening when I saw several of the homeless ppl who had taken refuge in Liberty Square scattering as I rounded the left onto Cedar. By the time I returned to Cedar and Broadway, the NYPD was already set up, with 50 riot police on the plaza across Broadway from Liberty Square, backed by enormous and shockingly bright klieg lights, the ones I’d seen the trucks hauling earlier.
I was allowed to cross into the Park, possibly because I had gotten there just in the nick of time, and on the Liberty Square side of broadway there were dozens and dozens more officers, shoulder to shoulder.
I ran to the Kitchen area, knowing that the park defense plan would be executed there. There were only a few dozen people in the park itself, mostly folks on park defense duties and “occupiers” (in our parlance, those who actually lived in the park), as well as a few random people. Many undoubtedly left, and those of us who remained were frantically running around. The only bit of panic I felt was in this moment, when I realized my mind was moving too fast for me to use my phone to tweet, and because that was unacceptable, I set panic aside and composed my thoughts:
I began snapping photos and tweeting to capture the moment.
A woman calling herself Sarah Harper asked me to tweet something she’d written on a piece of cardboard; this actually became kind of a thing:
It was surreal, watching the police move in very, very rapidly and just begin hauling tents full of belongings and throwing them into the trash. They began from the east side, the Broadway side, and worked their way in. I felt like they were certain to just walk up and take us, but they cleared everything around the Kitchen before approaching us at all.
Eventually, I found myself on the south side of the Kitchen. Folks had begun to barricade the kitchen with various items, and some others hard-locked themselves in (though to what, I’m not sure). The remainder of us built human walls around the perimeter.
The idea had been, with ideally several thousand people that we hoped to have an opportunity to rally, to build these human walls — of people with linked arms and legs in various ways — in concentric circles, providing a significant and peaceful deterrent to police action. It was even conceivable that we wouldn’t need to use these tactics at all, as on October 14th, when simply having 3-4,000 people in the Park was enough to forestall illegal evacuation.
But, these tactics didn’t succeed, obviously, in preventing this evacuation. While the timing of the raid was obviously well-considered (as documented here), whether they picked the day of the week because it was an evening where many residents of the Park were at the Spokescouncil meeting offsite, or just got lucky, it’s hard to say. In any case, because the police barricaded in a 2-block radius and banned all media from the perimeter, whether it was 40 or 400 of us trapped in there, it wasn’t going to be enough.
It wasn’t even a decision I needed to make. Liberty Square was the closest thing to an actual free public space I’ve ever experienced, particularly in New York. We had been there for just shy of 2 months, built a community, built shared resources and values, built a space where all were welcome. We were exercising our constitutional rights to speech, assembly, and press. More importantly, we were using that space to test, modify, and re-test new models that I believe our society, and the world, can use to operate free of oppression and with equality of voice. Now, the NYPD was going to roll in and with almost no delay just remove us and all of our work, throwing our signs, books, renewable energy generators, tents, and other belongings into the trash?
Naw. If they were going to bury our civil liberties, we would go down with them. And we’d go down singing:
We reminded the NYPD of our First Amendment rights using the people’s mic:
And later, though I did not know about this until I saw this video, folks shared their “why we occupy” stories with the NYPD:
This is very, very emotional. I can’t help but wonder if the impact of these stories accounts for part of the reason for the NYPD’s long delay between clearing everything but the kitchen, and moving on the kitchen itself.
We did spot a “sound cannon”, and in the heat of the moment I expected it to be @TheLRAD (“SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE”) but it was just used to project announcements into the Kitchen:
(@olikewoah is actually @molly__o, and she was maced immediately after exiting the subway, which is nuts. At the time she texted me that she’d been tear gassed, but she’d never been maced before (go figure, huh?) and she didn’t know the difference.)
We didn’t yet know the extent of the perimeter — it was massively enforced, it turned out, hence the random macings — and I did my best to keep on cheerleading:
Some of the stories I heard from the perimeter were far more brutal than the rough treatment I saw in Liberty Square itself. People were arrested for asking questions; press were penned in and assaulted if they attempted to reach the Park. Pepper spray and batons were used liberally. It’s ironic — I can only imagine that the police on the perimeter thought that protecting the perimeter from prying eyes was of utmost importance due to the abrogation of rights being committed. But their own treatment was well-documented, and in many ways just as or more scandalous.
At this point, the NYPD began using the “sound cannon” to project this announcement into the Kitchen, which is something that was not a part of their standard loop from when they first showed up:
Anyone who observed Bloomberg’s statements in the days after may have missed this, as he said the responsibility was all his. I’m not sure he has the right to accuse us of trespassing on someone else’s property, though.
Here’s how close they were to us at 2:19AM:
I really thought our moment was coming, but really it would be another hour at least before they took us.
A super helpful OWSer and Twitter follower of mine, docr0cket, gave us some encouragement, letting us know how many people were on the perimeter trying to support! It was really amazing to hear because as far as we knew it was just us in the Kitchen and a LOT of police at this point.
At this point, the police arrived with the saws, and we saw them cutting tents down. Someone yelled that they were trying to cut the lines that held up the Kitchen roof. It’s 2:30 AM when I tweeted this:
I started shooting more videos. Every single one I expected to be the last…
(somehow, this one didn’t make it into my phone’s memory, so there’s just the yfrog version: )
We kept chanting:
There were several people walking around outside of the Kitchen. The police reminded me of the Borg at this point — if you didn’t interact with them, or you weren’t a tent or piece of property, they left you alone. Someone came by and handed out a bunch of books, which led to what I thought was a priceless moment. It’s almost 3 AM at this point:
Meanwhile I’m still all rabble-rousing:
And we’re chanting “You are the 99%” and singing The Star Spangled Banner at the police:
(Fair warning, you may want to turn the volume down for that last one, I’m trying to sing. I was hoping it’d drive the police away. No, really.)
At 3:11 AM, another Sarah Harper update:
A few minutes later, this guy started waving a big ol’ American flag at the police. I heard that this dude was arrested after everyone else, when he ran back into the park to plant the flag. Guy is a legend. I showed him this video a couple of days ago and he was so proud.
More rabble rousing!
And then, what looking back was definitely the canary in the coal mine:
At that point, things got much more hectic. It was like time went into slow motion. The universe flipped upside down. I was live on the BBC global service world news! WTF?
It wasn’t long after that when police began entering the north side of the Kitchen, pulling folks apart and arresting them with cavalier use of force, and our shouts and yells of love towards the cops became more frantic. Folks began narrating the arrests, and I accidentally started a viral Twitter rumor with this video:
This video was massively distributed around the Internet and received over 25,000 views on yfrog alone. Gizmodo reposted it, linking to a YouTube rip that did not credit me. This doesn’t matter, except that in detaching the video from contexts I could influence, my clarification of the video’s contents was not widely distributed.
It was widely reported that this video showed tear gas being used by the NYPD. While we were briefly confused about what that gas was, it was not tear gas. It came from a fire extinguisher that someone sat or stepped on. I’ll be waiting for everyone to help me correct the record! :P
Meanwhile, while they’re arresting folks on the North side of the Kitchen, they’re chatting us up on the south side. Totally surreal:
Finally, they went in hard on the other side, smashing the kitchen:
They destroyed the shelves full of food not by, like, lifting them up and moving them, but by smashing them. They made a huge mess of, like, pickle juice and mayo all over the place. They’re all cursing, irritated; it was hilarious to me at the time. I hope they got it all over their boots. I hope their boots still smell like brine. Brine and injustice.
That was my last update, so you’ll have to go without the visual aids for the rest of this story.
I was among the last people arrested. Zip-tied face-down on the granite tiles of Zuccotti Park, I felt calm. I was lifted up by at least two officers and stood up willingly. I was handed to another officer and was led around the mess that was once a kitchen feeding thousands each day. “Have a seat,” he said, and pushed me down on my knees. I was surrounded by at least a couple dozen of my friends and allies, and we laughed and joked at the absurdity of the situation. All of our rights had been violated, but it happened together, and we had stood together in solidarity with our movement. It was pretty intense. We sang one fellow prisoner “Happy Birthday.” Less humorously, there were several folks whose plastic cuffs were far too tight, and we advocated for each other until police freed and then recuffed those folks.
After about 20 minutes of kneeling on the sidewalk with hands cuffed, during which I saw one man wheeled out on a stretcher, they began to load us into buses. Each of us were handed to an officer who’d become our “arresting officer,” even though they in fact did not arrest us. They took two polaroids of each of us, one solo and one with our arresting officer, and then stuck stickers on the back.
The bus I was to be loaded into was full, so they brought myself and two other arrestees to a paddy wagon. At this point, I began experiencing an intense burning situation in my right hand. “Excuse me, officer, my hand is killing me — it feels like it’s on a stovetop,” I said.
I could tell he heard me, but he didn’t respond. I took a deep breath and tried to be patient, but this was the only time in the night when panic really became a thing, and I started to compensate for it by detaching myself from the situation. I kept picturing my hand all swelled up with blood, ready to burst — unrealistic, but the pain was extremely intense. Detachment kept me from panicking, but it also kept me from advocating for myself. Fortunately, one of my co-arrestees noticed the state I was in. “Excuse me, officer, can you re-cuff him? He’s in pain!”
Eventually, an officer went to retrieve ‘the snips’ and a new pair of zip cuffs, muttering to the other officer nearby, “I’ve heard this is happening — there’s something wrong with these cuffs. They’re too thick.” I noticed that the cuffs WERE really thick, about 2 inches across.
He came back and tried to snip the cuffs off. WHICH REALLY HURT WAY WORSE. One of the cuffs was wrapped tight around my wrist bone, when he tried to cut it off, it only became tighter and I felt like some serious damage was being done. All of a sudden, the pain stopped. I thanked the officer profusely while he recuffed me.
Eventually, the three of us were marched back to where the full bus had been — an empty bus now awaited us. We were loaded on, men in the back and women in the front. I gathered that we were the last bus. Eventually, we left.
We drove directly to Central Booking, but apparently it was full! I later found out it was because many of the arrests outside the 2-block perimeter happened far earlier than the clearing of the kitchen. The bus turned around awkwardly.
Meantime, in the bus, we’re singing “This Land is Your Land” and “Redemption Song”, trying to get the officers on the bus to join in. We catch one singing along; he gets embarrassed and stops.
After turning around, the bus proceeded back towards Dewey Square. THERE ARE MAD PEOPLE THERE! They see us and flip out! We see them and flip out! It was amazing. OUR PEOPLE! We circled Dewey Square while a mob of people ran towards us in a spiral as we rounded the Square.
The bus proceeds back to Central Booking; pulls up to the gate, and after a moment, turns around again! This time, though, they didn’t take us back to Dewey, they parked the bus.
Then we sat. For a long time. Then we were waved through, and then parked again, and sat. For a longer time. Meanwhile, the adrenaline had passed and we were all exhausted. We slumped uncomfortably. I tried to sleep, but couldn’t. My wrist cuffs kept dragging towards my hands and I had to constantly readjust.
Then, arresting officers started showing up to retrieve people. After about an hour, there were only 5 of the original 20-something. After another hour, our arresting officer finally came.
At this point, I’m just anxious for this to move forward. One of my busmates tells me that once we get inside, they’ll remove the cuffs, and so I now have a checkpoint to look forward to.
Our arresting officer eventually came to get us. He was a Staten Island Task Force officer, called to the first precinct strategically because he’d never seen #OWS before. To whatever extent the first precinct’s finest have grown accustomed to us, or even sympathetic with us, the police administration knows better than to ask them to ruthlessly remove us.
Our arresting officer wasn’t jovial, he wasn’t mean, he wasn’t condescending, and he wasn’t supportive. He reminded me of myself working some of the less interesting jobs I’ve had in life. He seemed to have no personal investment in the situation he was in. He was a worker doing a job, and not a job he particularly seemed to want to be doing — but it’s not like he had objections, either. He just wanted his shift to end.
They marched us into a gated yard, where we were again photographed. We waited in line to enter, and all I could think about was “where’s the part where they uncuff me?” But after a few minutes standing there, I realized that there were many officers, well, horsing around. It was bizarre. These folks had just committed a massive violation of civil rights on the orders of their superiors, likely to spawn court actions and create headlines lasting well into the future. And yet, the weight of events meant nothing to them. It reminded me that officers bear no responsibility for their actions, even if they willingly accept orders that are illegal or morally wrong. How can we accept that a human being, especially a law enforcement officer, can become essentially above the law?
I had to wait for quite while to get uncuffed, as it turned out. That came after we’d slowly filed into the building, through an entry room, and into another room with two holding cells, one for males and one for females. The gender binary is a huge problem in our justice system, and I can’t imagine how folks with non-binary gender identities must feel walking into that room.
While we were waiting, we began conversing in earnest with our arresting officer. One of his other arrestees asked him why he was a cop. “Well, I was in the military. Then I finished my service, came home, and now I’m a cop.” I asked him what led him to decide to serve, and he told me that for him it was a choice between going to college, which he didn’t feel ready for or didn’t want to do, and joining the military. I asked him if it upset him at all that those were his only two choices. He didn’t see it that way. “Even when I was in high school, I was in ROTC. Like, when I was a kid, I’d want to play soldiers.”
I let that one drop, aware of the vast chasm between our perspectives. Someone else began asking him about what he thought of Occupy. He wasn’t invested either way — he was just doing his job. He also really didn’t know anything about it, having never seen it and only being, he claimed, vaguely aware of it. We tried to explain it to him. He told us we were breaking the law by being in the Park, but he didn’t seem aware of why or how. We told him that the Park rules made our presence legal and that dropping a sanitation order with no notice, while blocking the press, was obviously not a content-neutral enforcement action and was thus a violation of the first amendment. “It’s nice to have rights, but if there’s no place in society where you can use them without someone having a superseding power, what is the point?” He seemed unsure how to answer that, and after a few minutes I tuned back out.
After some time in line, they took our IDs and put us into the holding cell, one at a time. There were two women in the opposite cell, and they seemed to have been there quite awhile. Their arresting officer had gone missing, and no one much seemed to mind. It reminded me of my own time waiting on the bus for my AWOL arresting officer. Being abandoned, with no agency, cuffed and stuck — that sucks.
After a very short time in the holding cell, a suspiciously friendly officer invited me out the other end and asked for my ID. He commented on my hometown sports team and, gesturing to the officers performing pat-downs in stalls across the way, suggested a fan of a rival team should be the one to pat me down. They laughed. I was directed to a different stall, where I was freed from my cuffs (Ahhhhhhhh.) and told to empty my pockets. Then I placed my hands on the wall and an officer frisked me.
The contents of my pockets went into a manilla envelope. I stood in line at the next table, where I asked if I could turn off my phone, thinking I’d like it to have a charge when I’m released. I was told to clasp my hands behind my back, and when called I dumped the contents of my envelope on a table. An officer counted my coins and catalogued my belongings, stapling an inventory to the envelope and giving me a copy.
Then I was led into the jail, past a large room full of arrestees, and down the hall and past a desk to a row of 2-person cells, with a cot, enough room to stand next to it, a sink, and a toilet. There were already two people in the cell, but I joined them. A fourth joined us shortly. They gave us stale bread, apparently meant to resemble a peanut butter sandwich but with the smallest dollop of peanut butter. “They’re not much good for eating, but they’re OK as pillows,” my cot-occupying cellmate told me helpfully.
I curled up in a corner at the foot of the cot while the rest was being slept on by someone else. Two other people lay on the floor, one under the cot and one next to it. It was cold and unbelievably boring. Eventually they pulled someone out and I stretched out on the floor with a sandwich under my head. It was unbelievably cold. And boring.
I passed out. I woke up feeling like I had no idea how much time had passed. I sat there for a short time, contemplating. We weren’t sure how long we’d have to wait, and we tried to figure out whether they’d hold us for arraignment or give us desk appearance tickets (D.A.Ts). Since I lived in New York, I was more likely than my non-New Yorker comrades to be released with a D.A.T., while they’d be more likely to stay until arraigned, which could take many hours more. I began to worry that since I used my previous address, they would forget I lived in New York, and hold me for arraignment. The passage of time was a slow bleed, so slow that it was easy to doubt that time was passing at all. Frankly, I was beginning to get a little crazy, and the only thing that kept me focused was remembering how much longer people endure this sort of thing. It must be endurable, right?
I lucked out, though. It was only another 30 minutes when my name was called. “You’re being released,” they said, and it was like a movie again. I was walked back towards the entrance, and they asked me to wait next to the large “tank” holding cell, where I could see occupiers dancing, playing drums, drinking water and socializing. I had a bizarre and brief moment of envy for their shared cell, until I came to my senses and realized that I was about to be freed. They’d more likely be envious of me.
I was walked out, on the way having my items returned to me — my iPhone surprisingly dead (though later, I developed suspicions that it was because the police had turned it on and used it). Our arresting officer walked us out back the way the bus had entered and stopped at the gates. I shook his hand and thanked him for talking to me.
He shook loosely, and nodded. He just wasn’t very invested.
Congrats, you made it to the end! I hope this record of events benefits humanity, and, in particular, you, in some way.
And dear reader — if you reckon it does.. Please check out my WePay page if you’d like to help me continue to tweet the revolution. Among other revolutionary activities! There’s a bunch of info there if you’re curious why I’m so bold as to even make that request.Thank you!!
1.0 - TL;DR. Known issues: broken yfrog embed.
1.01 - Fixed yfrog embed, triplicate tweet and stray sentence-that-became-a-lie while in beta (something about how I was going to let the rest of the videos speak for themselves.) TL;DR
1.1 - Shortened boring technerd intro and moved WePay plug to bottom. Felt weird about having put it at the top to begin with. TL;DR
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