From Liberty Plaza to The Brooklyn Bridge to First Precinct
On October 1st 2011, in New York City, a march in relation with the movement “Occupy Wall Street” started from Liberty Plaza and, following the Manhattan streets, headed over Brooklyn through the Brooklyn Bridge. While the marchers initially followed the pedestrian pathway, after a couple of hundred of meters it appeared that the Police was letting them use one lane of the Booklyn bound road underneath. Many jumped there and followed it till they were blocked by the Police, and a total of seven hundred were eventually arrested. I was following the march to take pictures. This is the account I can make, as seen by my eyes, as felt by my heart, as heard by my ears.
While the general assembly is going on at Liberty Plaza, everyone around is getting ready for the march, from the Police to the journalists, to future marchers trying to find their friends in the crowd. The atmosphere is very relaxed, and police officers and protesters are cracking jokes.
There is no single message coming from the movement, which is apolitical. The general idea being that the people are here to show their displeasure with the current leaders, both political and economical. Banners are very different from one person to another: some deal with the recent execution of Troy Davis, others compare the military spending with education or social care, while the majority express a global concern about their lives.
In fact the only few political banners are for “Ron Paul 2012” and a few people wearing “Socialist Party USA” red T-shirts. I do notice that as a general rule, people with explicit political banners tend to be older than most of the crowd.
The march starts
The march slowly makes its way along the busy Broadway avenue, made even more busier by the impressive Police deployment, both at Liberty Plaza, and all along the march. Stationary Policemen are in every corner, while scooters are moving along, following with the crowd to prevent spilling on the road.
At some points, there are so many Policemen that their scooters are wheel to wheel. Marchers are chanting ‘We are 99%, and so are you, exhorting bystanders and some bewildered tourists to join them.
People are chanting the different songs that have been distributed to them before the march, on a piece of paper that also contained general behavior guidelines and legal advice in case of arrest.
Reaching Park Row, the march turns East towards the Brooklyn Bridge. The Police stop cars from passing through. While most drivers do not know what is going on, some start clapping at the marchers.
On the Brooklyn Bridge
The march finally arrives at Brooklyn Bridge and starts up on the pedestrian pathway. Due to the width of the bridge, the march starts to get slower as people need to be tightly packed.
The Police are blocking the road part of the bridge to the marchers, directing them up the pedestrian walkway. Everybody follows their direction.
However after about two hundred meters, the word goes out that the Police are letting the marchers use one lane of the road. People start jumping the small fence separating the two, thinking the Police wants to avoid trampling due to the narrowing of the march on the pedestrian lane.
The march goes on on the bridge, some participants stop on the side to express their message. Many are pointing at the current USA deficit and its consequences on governmental decisions.
Some banners are an explicit reference to the movements that have risen in Europe in Spring 2011, with the “Indignados” reference (itself a reference to French resistant Stephane Hessel’s pamphlet), which had taken up after the “Arabian Spring” of early 2011.
We now arrive very close to the famous first large pillar of the Brooklyn Bridge. The march occupies the full width of the road.
Stuck on the bridge
As we are about to reach the famous first pillar of the bridge, a new kind of netting has appeared, unlike the beautiful cables the bridge is famous for, it is unexpected: the Police are blocking the way to Brooklyn, while they seem to be walking in front of us before that. We turn around to go back to Manhattan, but the Police are blocking us from behind as well.
People have no idea what is going on as we start to get more and more compressed. A call is made to sit down to avoid arrests, but the march becomes so tight that it is impossible to do so. On the Brooklyn side, the Police have started to arrest people already and are getting closer.
Someone starts using the Occupation way of communication (someone shouts something, the crowd around him chants it, the rest of the crowd chants to show they have understood) from the pedestrian walkway to explain us what is going on. Faces start to show worried feelings.
To avoid getting arrested, a few marchers start climbing the metal pilars to go up the pedestrian way. I am worried that someone will fall and hurt themselves.
As arrests are now proceeding at full blast, we sit down waiting for instructions, not knowing what is going to happen, not knowing if we will be released right away or kept in jail in a police station. A couple of meters away, the Police have just received boxes of hand ties and are preparing them.
People stand up when it is their turn to get arrested. Five at a time, we are being led to an arresting officer, who will search us for weapons, look into our bags, and put the hand ties on us.
While most banners are now discarded, few still cling to theirs seconds before being arrested, even when their message is not as serious as others.
Most banners start to get discarded. Some people have stacked them along the orange police net. The march was orderly from start to finish, and cleaning was probably made easier by that.
I am arrested with some friends around 4:20pm (official arrest time). For obvious reasons the rest of this story takes place without camera.
From Brooklyn Bridge to the jail cell
Once our hands have been tied behind our backs, we are led to a Police bus. Our arresting officer introduces himself, as we will have to follow him among more than a hundred other people in the precinct we are going to. Soon the bus makes it way to firt precinct, a short ride from Brooklyn Bridge.
Inside the bus the atmosphere is relaxed: as everyone feared to be arrested, once it has happened, people do not fear it anymore. We joke between us and with the police officers. The bus driver is very cheerful and tries to make sure we are comfortable considering the circumstances.
Once we arrive at the police station, we are being told that as we are the only bus, all the vans (which are smaller and less comfortable) will have priority on us. We spend about one hour and a half waiting, at least we are not in the rain, which has started to fall outside. At some point a police officer talking with fellow policemen makes the remark that “They would not have been there in the first place if it had not been for the NYPD”. We smile at one another hearing that.
Out of the bus and into the precinct courtyard, our pictures are taken, individually, with our arresting officer. Old school Polaroid cameras! Everybody is smiling, morale is still high. Our hand ties are cut while our property is being put in envelopes. We can hear clapping and chanting coming from inside the precinct. The officers start filling paperwork, asking us our names and date of birth a couple of times. On the back of the picture, the charge line is empty. I hear an officer ask another one “what do I put there?” “No idea, they haven’t decided yet”.
Once inside, we are being ordered to enter a small long cell, in a file, where we stand waiting to be called again. This is just to make room so that the whole precinct is not swamped with people. There are more than a hundred people and the paperwork bulk is quite big for each and everyone of them. We finally get inside the main cell, which contains 75 inmates when I do, under loud cheering and clapping.
The Police officers all act very professionally. A commander comes with a water fountain and two heavy bottles right away, along with paper cups. We also get sandwiches and milk, twice in the evening. From time to time an inmate is called to the side to talk through holes to his arresting officer. To provide mode details about where they live, about their identification, and in the case of the few minors who have been arrested, their parents phone number.
From time to time we see groups of five girls, detained in another part of the precinct, pass by. People cheer and clap at them to give them strength, as apparently they are not locked in a single cell like us. The warmth and group cohesion between the inmates is great. Seasoned protesters help the others out while most people are socializing. Most people are middle class, have good jobs, and come to “Occupy Wall Street” after hours. Many people were in a march for the first time, and most are in a cell for the first time as well.
Two men stand out from the rest of the inmates. One is a minister dressed in black, with a white tie. He was the first man to be arrested that day. He makes a heartfelt speech to the rest of the cell. I later saw the videos and many pictures of his arrest. The second one is a tall fifty year old, dressed in a white shirt. He is accused of having hurt a policeman during his arrest. We see him come and go a couple of times, under cheers or boos, till he is handcuffed and brought away.
At 1:00am my name is called, along with the name of the four others I was arrested with. Our arresting officer leads us to the exit room, where we are given a DAT (Desk Appearance Ticket) for November 15th, under the charge of “240.20(5)”, aka Disorderly Conduct, with obstruction of vehicular or pedestrian traffic. The last step inside the precinct is to get our envelopes with personal belongings back, then our arresting officer escorts us outside.
In the street we are met and greeted by occupiers from Liberty Plaza, who give us legal advice, food, beverages, cigarettes for the smokers.
Phill and I, the friend with whom I was arrested, and who was released minutes after I was, head over in the darkened streets, where the usual Saturday night activity is a stark contrast with the 9 hours we have just lived. We both smile.