Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elseware in solidarity to those causes.
New York, NY – I’ve attended many Occupy Wall Street marches and actions since last September, mostly working as a photographer, some very large, others on the smaller sides. This week’s casserole march however included a record in how quickly NYPD stepped in to crack down on marchers. We had just left Washington Square Park and entered into Thompson Street when a group of marchers took the street. I was still on the sidewalk when next to me a white shirt cop with a bull horn started shouting at protesters to get off the street. From that moment on it usually takes a few minutes for things to get heated, but other white shirts started grabbing marchers pretty much immediately. It seemed to me that the cops knew who they were after, as I saw them grab some but not others initially. Three arrests happened literally right next to me. Usually I have to muscle my way into a throng of people to get a good arrest shot. Now they were right there. And we hadn’t even marched further than 200 feet from the park …
In some ways this approach by the NYPD reminded me of the wildcat march on May 1st, where NYPD also cracked down immediately on marchers right as they set out to march. On May 1st, a group of hooded marchers got as far as the first street corner before finding themselves in a shoving match with the cops. Last night they made it maybe 20 feet further … On both cases very senior cops were commanding the troops. On May 1st I photographed Deputy Commissioner Ray Esposito, Ray Kelly’s second in command, standing right next to each arrest that was made. Last night it was a Deputy Chief, who’s name I didn’t catch, but it was the same officer who commanded the troops down at Federal Hall on April 16th, where cops and protesters collided over their attempt to sleep on Wall Street sidewalks. On both nights, NYPD scored over 10 arrests. On April 16th a poet got arrested for reading a poem out loud after 10pm. Last night they even arrested a bike, someone for walking on the bike lane.
After that initial clash protesters stayed on the sidewalks mostly, which was probably the whole point of the initial NYPD aggression. Me thinks they really want to clamp down hard on any wildcat tactics before they can take a foothold with protesters. Apart from the bike lane incident and the fact that at some point a couple of white shirts arrested a young Latino man who had absolutely nothing to do with the march, cops were much more hands off. One white shirt even made sure he’d smile every time he saw me point my camera at him …
Most excessive in my view was that a full squad of the counter terrorism unit was out in Times Square right next to the protesters as they were banging their pots and calling a mic check and otherwise engaged in peaceful conversation. Does dissent these days really equal terrorism in NYPD’s eyes?
Editor’s note: This post is one of many recounting events on June 6th, in which cities all over the world marched in solidarity with protests in Quebec. You may read about an arrestee’s account of the march here, and multiple points of view of the same march’s first five minutes here. A story recounting jail support in Chicago may be found here.