New York, NY – This past Saturday, December 17th, was the three-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Back in September, people began sleeping in a privately-owned public space a few blocks away from Wall Street in protest of the gross economic malfeasance the investors on Wall Street, the higher-ups at big banks, and the United States government has perpetrated against the American people, and people throughout the world. Whether or not you agree with OWS’s tactics and all of its beliefs, you can’t help but read the paper, watch the news, or look at your bank account and realize that, to quote the signage of one protester, “Shit is fucked up and bullshit.”
While I’m an adamant supporter of Occupy Wall Street, as anyone who has read this blog will likely know, I’ll admit that I was conflicted about the plans for D17, the anniversary celebration. OWS was going to take over a space that was not public, was fenced off, a space whose owners made it very clear that they did not want to be occupied. The owners of Duarte Square, Trinity Wall Street, have helped out OWS in the past, providing shelter and office space, food and some verbal support. This further complicated things in my mind, OWS was not quite biting the hand that feeds it, but close.
Do churches owe a movement that is committed to social equality anything? Trinity Wall Street is an Episcopal church that also happens to own about a third of the land south of Canal Street in Manhattan. They are equal parts church and corporation, like so many other mega-churches throughout the United States. A Christian church, you would think, would be committed to little more than the words of Christ himself, words like “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” or “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves” or “sell what you possess and give to the poor.” And while Trinity doesn’t owe anybody anything, you’d at least think that following Jesus’s words would be important to them.
OWS weren’t asking for money, or shelter, or anything, really. They wanted to set up tents on a piece of concrete that no one uses and is fenced off from the public. An actual presence is important to the movement, a place to meet and gather and discuss and call home. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that a church, supposedly devoted to spreading God’s message of helping the poor etc., would give up a scrap of land, of which they own billions of dollars worth, to create a home base for a movement they supposedly ideologically agree with. But that was too much to ask.
Not much happened between noon and 3pm on D17. Me and the handful of friends I was with hung out in the cold, talking, milling, and eventually Eric and I were asked to hold a sign on the side of the road, “Tune in to 99.5 FM/Follow the revolution.” 99.5 WBAI worked in conjunction with OWS, broadcasting a series of performers, including Lou Reed, from their studio. Protesters were encouraged to bring radios so that everyone could have a party in the park. This worked and didn’t, but it was done in good spirit.
At about 3pm, we headed to a Starbucks to warm up and use the bathroom. I was wearing an OWS button on my coat that someone had handed to me weeks earlier at another event. The cashier saw it, clapped her hands with glee, smiled, and didn’t charge me for my coffee. We waited nearly an hour in the immense bathroom line and when we made it back to the park, nearly everyone was gone. We thought the police had cleared them out.
From a ways down Varick Street we heard a loud but muffled “WE. ARE. THE 99%!” The protesters had gone a-marchin’. When the march returned, they took the square.
Banners held by protesters concealed two small sets of staircases. The staircases were put up against the fence, and the first to climb them was retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard, followed by dozens more. I chose not to occupy the space, I didn’t want to get arrested and knew that those who did go in, would be.
But that didn’t spare me from getting roughed up by the police. As the crowd chanted “BLOOMBERG’S ARMY!” and “FROM NEW YORK TO GREECE, FUCK THE POLICE!” you could see the anger in the police growing. No one wants to feel like they’re anyone’s lackey, and it surely didn’t make them feel good to know that Bloomberg himself claimed the NYPD were his army recently. As police attempted to clear the sidewalk on Grand Street where the stairs were going up, I was pushed multiple times by an officer, a nightstick held by both his hands and pressed across my chest. Behind me was a police van that I was repeatedly pushed into. “There’s a fucking van behind me! Where am I supposed to go?” was what I had to yell, over and over, before he let me go. And minutes later, on the park side of Duarte Square, I came across a man being hassled by riot-geared cops who wouldn’t let him near the fence to the Square. “What law am I breaking?” he kept asking them. He showed identification and was an assistant to the NYC Attorney General. A whiteshirt refused to give the man a straight answer and turned his back. The man tapped the whiteshirt on the shoulder and a swarm of riot-geared foot soldiers grabbed the man and threw him, multiple times, into me. I was pushed in the process, too. A stream of obscenities flew from my mouth and a friend held me back, thank God. Not that I’d ever touch a cop, because they are untouchable as this whole scene proved, but if a cop decided that I was out of line, all of my rights would’ve dissolved with the crack of a baton.
I didn’t shoot this video of George Packard being taken to jail, because I wasn’t arrested that day, but he points out that Trinity doesn’t want to help OWS because the people who can afford to lease land that Trinity owns won’t do business with Trinity if they help OWS. It’s disgusting to know that a church even worries about doing business with anyone. I’m no Christian, so what churches do in general I find odd and strange, but in my mind, the last thing a church should ever worry about is pissing off its business partners, or even having business partners in the first place. A church shouldn’t have business partners. A church should be there to a) worship their god and b) serve the community. Why else are they given tax-exempt status, if not for being a charitable organization?
It’s really too bad that Bloomberg’s Army has also become Trinity’s army, as well as the army of all those who oppose the common man and the struggle for financial and social equality. Though I’m not a Christian, I’m reminded of the Centurions in the Bible. While the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders of the time, the ones who believed in strictly following Rabbinical law but also loved making a buck, called for the execution of Jesus, it was the Centurions, Rome’s army, who carried out the orders, who dragged Jesus through the streets, who tortured him, who hung him on a cross to die and then gambled for his clothes. But it was also a Centurion, Cornelius, who was the first Gentile to convert to Christianity. I wonder who the first convert from the NYPD will be? Because they’re with OWS, they’re part of the 99%, whether they like it or not. It’s only a matter of time.
Duarte Square wasn’t taken that day, and OWS still does not have a physical base that’s open and transparent and welcoming. But that’s ok, for now. The few thousand who showed up on Saturday despite the cold have shown that the movement is still alive, even though corporations, church corporations, and their minions have tried to crush it.
New York, NY–My wrist hurts.
Really more that it possibly should. This is not good. I’m a writer, a photographer, I like to shake people’s hands. I need my wrist functioning.
And I’m not even arrested yet.
It’s 12 o’ clock and there’s maybe 100 people here…and that’s including the press. #D17 is not looking to be all it was cracked up to be, like an ‘N Sync reunion when Justin doesn’t show up. (It was intended to be a celebration of the 3 month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its encampment at Zuccotti Park, and was supposed to be marked by a reoccupation in New York at the nearby Duarte Square, a vacant plot of land owned by Trinity Wall Street, a parish of the Episcopal Diocese of NYC.)
It’s freezing, well, maybe not that bad, but I’m underdressed for the occasion, wearing a light jacket and no gloves or a hat. An hour and a half into standing around at Duarte Park in Lower Manhattan – I thought I’d be running after occupiers and dodging kettling nets.
I get the standard shots – the wide above the head shot (for crowd count), the protesters children (cute sells!), the old school occupiers (who knows AARP might run a piece on #OWS), the funny signs (always good for Internet reach), and then the pretty portraits (30mm f1.4 Sigma, wide open, manual focus – shallow depth of field).
Ok. So now it’s 1:30 PM. Our sources inside the OWS movement tell us that since the organizers were pre-arrested** – one of which is some guy named Zach – they’re not sure anything is actually going down during the day, maybe not until 7 PM.
CS (still photog), Andrew (still photog), Brian (still photog), Rosie (Village Voice writer) and I (SuicideGirls photog) huddle in a group, trying to decide what to do. I hate to admit it, I’m the first one to say fuck it, let’s go home – warm up and recharge for the night.
Brian, a shooter says he’s staying, has to and recommends that we all stay. Even if he didn’t have to, we all know he would anyway. He’s done Egypt and Greece already, so we kind of look to him for guidance. He’s known within his agency to be the one that will go for days without sleep just to get the shot. During the cleansing of Zuccotti he went for about 2 days without sleep, going from assignment to assignment carrying other people’s shifts. Our motley crew decide to take Brian’s advice and stick around until 3:30, and if nothing happens run home and file.
3:30 PM EST.
CS and I are chatting, talking about brunch, warm coffee, French toast…suddenly Brian runs by – we immediately follow blindly.
The crowd suddenly starts to move. Where? We haven’t a f’n clue – but like the lemmings that photojournalists are – we follow (well, actually we run to the front of the crowd and walk briskly backwards while taking photos).
Immediately I get that something else is going on. The crowd isn’t going anywhere in particular and the turns it’s taking seem to be just to throw off the police that are on scooters.
And then I go around a corner to get a wide shot of the march and almost run straight into a man in purple robes. Oh, it’s a diversion. Bishops only move diagonally though. Where’s the rook?
I quietly say to myself, “I see what you did there.” Realizing that something is afoot with all these religious figures randomly hanging out watching a protest go by, I stay back for a moment allowing the protest to go by.
Like a ADD kid that hasn’t had his Ritalin, I very quickly get impatient and see a scuffle with a cop and a protester, I take one last look at the Holy figures I’m standing next to and run off chasing the pretty pictures.
Did I say fuck before? Because you see this time I really mean it. Like a crap Chess player going up against Bobby Fischer, I immediately lose the Bishop. Chasing after pretty pictures, ones I have hard drives filled with – I lose what will very quickly become the whole point of this charade.
Fuck it, I follow the protesters back toward Duarte Square, I know I screwed up, but maybe I didn’t waste the whole day.
Slowly we turn the corner to Grand Street and to my surprise (and quiet anger) I see several hundred protesters already there – some setting up a step ladder up against the fence that surrounds the other half of Duarte Square. A purple flash of cloth begins to ascend the wooden ladder that the protesters have propped against the fence, as if playing out some medieval storming of the castle. Except the castle is a park and the battlements are a standard wire fence.
The Bishop doesn’t wait for the other half of the stepladder – like a boss he runs to the top and then lets himself down the other side slowly. People quickly follow behind him, nearly falling on top of him. I’m stuck in the crowd about 20 feet away from the ladder – I look to the fence and judge correctly that there’s no way in hell I can scale it myself and then push toward the ladder – a path opens up and suddenly as I tell OWS organizers that I’m going over they’re all smiles and hands helping me and my gear over. Climbing over and taking blind shots from the top, I suddenly realize what a bad idea this is – fuck it, I’m over and now officially in “criminal trespass” territory.
About 75 people are over – including CS and about 5 other journos that I can point out as pros. The occupiers start pulling at the fence bringing it upward so that the rest of the crowd can rush in – there are very few takers. This very clearly worries the people on my side of the fence – and worries me – any moment now the police will be here and numbers are the only thing protecting us from batons, plastic cuffs and a night in the clink. I give up on waiting for the shot of the protesters going all Steve McQueen under the fence and start grabbing every possible angle of the scene I can think of. Through the fence, the wide shot, the closeup…Then suddenly there’s a very large officer from the NYPD in my face yelling “GET THE FUCK OUT NOW!”
Photojournalists understand that as “YOU HAVE ONLY FIVE MORE SHOTS TO TAKE AND YOU NEED TO START MOVING TOWARDS THE EXIT.”
CS flies by me yelling at me “TIME TO GO, NOW!” For once he’s being the careful one.
I begin to comply and start moving towards the stepladder, the only “exit” I know of from this fenced-in park. I, of course, continue taking shots though moving towards my non-arrest, then I make it to the place where the stepladder used to be.
It’s not there.
Well, to be exact, it’s on its side.
Again, oh shit!
Also, on the other side of the fence, where just moments before the protesters and other journos were pushing forward, now the police are pushing them back. I looked around and couldn’t place CS, Brian or any of the rest of my crew. I also noted, with growing dread, that I was the only person that wasn’t a member of the New York Police Department who wasn’t handcuffed face down in the gravel.
“SIT DOWN, NOW”
“I’m press! I’m a freelance photojournalist.”
“DO YOU HAVE CREDENTIALS?”
By this, he doesn’t mean from my agency or from my paper, he means the official New York City Press Credentials issued by the New York City Police Department.
Yes, the NYPD, the boys in blue that are currently in the process of arresting me are the ones that decide whether I am a recognized member of the media. They will not of course take in account my years of work for The Guardian, the dozen or so pieces I’ve produced for BBC TV, or any number of other works of journalism that I have done.
I don’t have NYC NYPD Press credentials.
So, I sat the fuck down. The officers went on to deal with other people – so, I continued to take photos, from my seated position. Once I had taken everything I could from this angle I called my boss (day job) Greg Palast.
Me: “Greg, I think I’m arrested, they told me to sit down, but they haven’t cuffed me yet. I won’t be making it into work later today.”
Greg: [Chuckles] “Ok Zach, we’ll get the word out. Keep me updated.”
Realizing that this whole arrest and day would be for naught if something happened to my memory cards – I (slyly as I could) removed the card from my camera and shoved it in my wrist brace.
Blanking on anything else that could be done I just sat there for a moment somewhat dazed as an old Phil Ochs song starts to run through my head…
There’s nothing as cold as the freeze in your soul
At the moment when you are arrested.
There’s nothing as real as the iron and steel
On the handcuffs when you protested.
The zip cuffs weren’t that cold, and certainly weren’t made of out steel, just heavy duty plastic that would need to be cut using utility shears. The officer that put on my cuffs was nice enough to ask about my wrist brace and put them somewhat loosely around that wrist, but made up for it on the other. I got off easy. The kid sitting next to me didn’t; very quickly his cuffs started cutting off the circulation to his hands and the cold didn’t help much either. After being helped up from the ground by the police he begged for his hat and sunglasses that had been knocked off in his takedown by the officer. Sunglasses and snowcap pulled over his head he looked like a reject from a Cheech and Chong audition. His banner and prop mannequin arm was to be left behind (I didn’t ask).
Lining us up by the exit of the park, we were taken off in threes to our respective wagons. I was with Cheech and a bearded protester from Canada who had a sad looking guitar case – he later confided with me that it wasn’t a guitar, but an axe (again, I didn’t ask).
It was now our turn to make the perp walk from the gated confines of the park to the paddy wagon.
Surrounded by about 40 police officers holding back protesters and photographers on both sides of us, we quickly walked to the awaiting wagon. I heard my name being yelled from both sides, on one Brian and on the other CS. Trying to give them both good shots I turned to one, held the look for a moment and then to the other doing the same. I tried to look serious, but not angry – honestly I was just dazed and somewhat confused – still convinced at some point the police would wise up and release me, allowing me to get back to my job as a photographer.
That didn’t happen of course.
Have I ever told you the one where the Bishop, the pastor and the photographer get into a paddy wagon together?
Yeah, I think not.
Bishop Packard is a tall man; dressed in purple robes, he commands attention just by his presence. Sitting beside him is a pastor, across him, luckily enough, is someone who worked out of her cuffs. Which is why we have this video. In it the Bishop breaks down why the Occupiers decided to take Duarte Square.
Even churches have a 1% and a 99%. The good Bishop is in the 99% – Trinity Church…well, I think you got it.
The ride to One Police Plaza is a long one and seemingly the bumpiest ride in all of Manhattan. But we’ve got the time – based on John Knefel’s reporting we have a long night ahead of us. The only problem is with each bump all of our cuffs get tighter and tighter. Cheech sitting next to me is in excruciating pain – the Bishop tries to see what we can do, but none of us can reach his cuffs to try to help.
When we finally make it to “The Yard,” as the police call it, it takes them another 40 minutes to process us and remove the cuffs. Paul Bunyan, the guy with the axe and beard, seems to have it the worst – the officers can’t find a place to get the scissors between the cuffs and his skin.
Moving from the yard, finally inside I realize that they never took my cell phone – so I quickly tweet out a couple of photos before they notice.
Inside the cell I noticed that I’m one of the first in my wagon to be processed – though there is a priest, a minister of some kind, and about 12 other occupiers.
I decide to make an entrance by announcing loudly, “My goodness is that a Priest on the Group W bench!?!?!” (doing my best Arlo Guthrie voice). Everyone over 30 in the holding cell starts laughing. Then one of the younger priests starts…
And I, I walked over to the, to the bench there, and there is, Group W’s where they put you if you may not be moral enough to join the army after committing your special crime, and there was all kinds of mean nasty ugly looking people on the bench there.
Then with gusto – anyone who got the original joke starts singing…
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant,
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant,
Walk right in it’s around the back,
Just a half a mile from the railroad track,
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.
I think Arlo would be proud. We went on to have a good old time swapping war stories. The Bishop joined us 20 minutes later and we all cheered. About a dozen other guys followed over the next couple of hours as we learned about the night’s continued actions. We held stack, talked about the future of the movement – I held a small working group trying to explain how to get better media coverage, and prep people for questions and so on.
I wouldn’t say the time flew by, but it moved. My arresting officer processed me out in about 8 hours – no iris scan – just fingerprints. I was lucky – some of the protesters coming in had some battle wounds. One 19-year-old kid had a shiner from what he said was getting punched in the face by a cop. Another, a main OWS organizer of #D17, was talking to us, reporting on the night’s activities and blood started streaming from under his winter hat. He calmly patted it with toilet paper and continued his report.
It’s surreal – 11 years I’ve been doing this shit. Years of anti-war protests, hanging with black bloc, shooting in Wasilla, Bed Stuy, and the reservations of the Southwest – and jumping over a ladder is the thing that gets me busted.
As I stepped out into the cold, a free man, the dry cheese sandwiches that they gave us to eat still festering in my stomach – I thought back to something that the Bishop had said. “There’s a reason we’re all here in this cell together; this is a moment and we need to keep it going.” I agree.
Fuck, this is beginning to sound like some odd redemption story – there’s no magical black man who can “acquire things” for me, and I’m not standing in the rain, covered in shit finally free…just the realization that none of us are safe – press, protester or priest.
Welcome to Bloomberg’s New York.
**Yes, pre-arrested – we’re talking Minority Report shit here. The police arrested an #OWS organizer for crimes that they assumed that he was going to commit later in the day.