Yesterday was a long one for the NYPD: Just as the city’s St. Patrick’s Day crowds began to exhaust themselves, hundreds of people descended on the financial district to mark the six-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The demonstration, which began with an afternoon march on lower Broadway, ended with 73 arrests, most of which were made during a late-night sweep of Zuccotti Park where, according to the police, protesters had installed now-illegal tents, sleeping bags, and other equipment used in the encampment established there back in September. (Many say the setup was limited to a green tarp hung between a pair of trees.) While about a dozen people had been taken into custody earlier in the day after sidewalk clashes with the cops, the bulk of the arrests were the result of some Occupiers’ to leave the area at 11:30 p.m., when a commander announced via bullhorn that the park was closed. The protesters, who insisted that Zuccotti was, in fact, required to remain open, responded with a sit-in, locking arms and chanting “we are not afraid” as the police moved in, handcuffs at the ready.
The space was cleared within a half-hour, with the arrestees loaded onto an unused MTA bus. As usual, each side offered differing accounts of the amount (and necessity) of force used. The Times reports that the cops initially ignored calls for medical attention for a woman who appeared to be having a seizure, while one man told the paper he’d been hit in the beck with a baton as he tried to exit the fray. Many said they’d been pushed and shoved. The scene remained tense after Zuccotti been emptied, with reports of demonstrators throwing bottles at the aforementioned bus and additional baton-rattling as the NYPD set up barricades around the perimeter of park, which remained shut down this morning.
After a mostly quiet winter for the movement, yesterday’s demonstration was intended to, in the words of Occupier Brendan Burke, “An opportunity to remind Wall Street that we aren’t going anywhere.” (Indeed, some others referred to it as “spring training.”) As Ed Needham, who Reuters identified as one of OWS's press reps, said:
"Every time they use violence to put us down, it only increases the number of people that are empathetic to the cause. It adds fuel to the fire and draws attention to the movement…Mayor Bloomberg did us a big help last night in terms of fundraising. But it's not just about the financial aspects - it's not about people writing checks, although they will, it's about people standing up to be counted."
So, is Occupy Spring upon us? Filmmaker Michael Moore, who made an appearance at yesterday’s march, told reporters, “This is the beginning. This park is sacred ground for millions across the country.”