Occupy Wall Street’s one year anniversary was celebrated by some 1,000 activists, significantly fewer than the number of supporters who turned out for demonstrations during the movement’s heydey, not only because they have lost much of their energy after being evicted from Zuccotti Park last November, but also because New York’s finest were at it again.
The NYPD arrested more than 180 people, beginning early on Monday as they tried to block access to the New York Stock Exchange, forming what was called the People’s Wall to protest what they maintain is an unfair economic and political system favoring the 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent.
The cops set up barricades around Wall Street and demanded ID cards from workers trying to near the NYSE. Protesters who remained in the streets were detained.
Sept. 17, 2011 was the culmination of efforts by the Canadian activist group Adbusters, inspired largely by the Arab Spring, to call on protesters to “flood lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street.”
Two days later, an Occupy Wall Street page sprung up on Facebook, with a YouTube video of the early protests, and by mid-October 2011 there were 125 Occupy-related pages.
On Oct. 12, 2011, the Los Angeles City Council became one of the first governmental bodies in the U.S. to adopt a resolution stating its informal support of the Occupy movement.
New York never followed suit, but by the end of that month, Occupy protests had taken place or were ongoing in more than 600 communities across the country. Soon to be followed by similar events in more than 95 cities across 82 nations around the world.
For the first few months, officials adopted a tolerant approach to the movement. Then, in mid-November 2011, more than a dozen camps in the U.S. were cleared, starting with the one in New York’s Zuccotti Park, largely because of the response of the NYPD.
Soon after the movement began, police officers in New York City started targeting journalists trying to cover it.
According to the 2011-2012 press rankings by Reporters Without Borders, while Egypt and Bahrain fell dramatically in the ratings because of their crackdown on journalistic freedom during the Arab Spring, so too did the United States, which came in 47th and “owed its fall of 27 places to the many arrests of journalists covering Occupy Wall Street protests.”
Since the attacks on 9/11, in fact, the NYPD has stopped at nothing in its avowed efforts to thwart terrorism, crushing any public expressions of disaffection in its wake.
As of Sept. 12, 2012, the NYPD had made a total of 1,852 Occupy-related arrests, according to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance‘s office, including the arrest of 700 protesters who spilled into the streets while marching across the Brooklyn Bridge last October.
Eeo Stubblefield from Woodstock, N.Y. was wearing a black T-shirt bearing the simple words “Unarmed Civilian” at Monday’s gathering in Zuccotti Park. She was holding a similarly stark sign that read, “End Police Brutality.”
Stubblefield is an Occupy Wall Street veteran, having helped to provide food for the so-called People’s Kitchen at the movement’s launch.
“Through the year, I’ve seen terrible police brutality,” she tells MintPress News. “I’m a grandmother, and a lot of these were younger people, and to see some of these things is awful.
“It’s a terrible example of what we want our world to be,” she adds.
When asked for details, Stubblefield recounts what she says was the worst incident. “Two policemen, one on each side, took a girl, 14 years old a whole city block with her legs spread open. Her shirt was ripped and her bra was exposed.”
She sighs, “It was like watching a sexual assault.”
Stubblefield recalls another scene. “I saw a young boy whose hands were turning blue because the plastic handcuffs were so tight. He was crying out to the police but they did nothing.
“That can cause nerve damage,” she continues.
There’s more, says Stubblefield. “One time, we were on the sidewalk and there was a young girl in front of me. The police were starting to do entrapment, so their bikes were on the sidewalk trying to get people out to the street.
“They ran over her feet with their wheels. When some boys saw that and tried to push back the police bikes, they were arrested,” she recounts.
“I don’t know what they’re so frighted of. You would think everyone would be happy that people were finally standing up and doing something.”
At least one official was openly supportive of the protesters as they carried on into Tuesday morning. Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams had gone to the park earlier in the day, both to back up the demonstrators and monitor how they were being treated.
“I came in just as the arrests were happening, and I went over to check out and see what was going on,” he said. “I got into a little tussle with the police. I think they weren’t understanding who I was and why I was there.”
Williams was, however, handcuffed during a confrontation with police at a demonstration last year.
Such actions, says Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, former president of the Chicago Theological Seminary and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, in a blog posted on the Washington Post website, undermine American values of freedom in the eyes of the world.
“Particularly now, when extremist religious rhetoric is being used (and abused) to spark anti-American demonstrations around the world, this is an especially important time for the practice of respect for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, freedoms that are indispensable to the freedom of religion and the practice of democracy, to be on display in the United States,” she writes.
“Instead, what the world is seeing is photos of arrests of Occupy protesters as they attempt to take their message of Wall Street’s responsibility for the nation’s economic meltdown to the streets once again and call for policies that support economic equality and fairness,” asserts Thistlethwaite.
“Suppressing the message of Occupy Wall Street is wrong on many levels, both political and religious.”
Feature photo | Occupy Wall Street protestor Chris Philips screams as he is arrested near Zuccotti Park, Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, in New York. John Minchillo | AP