cecilysentence

Will the Cecily McMillan Sentence Dampen Occupy’s Future?

It took six working stiffs to assemble the magnetometer in front of Judge Ronald Zweibel’s chamber: one held the long left unassembled side, a second knelt down trying to figure out how this white plastic dolmen attached at the top corner, a third held the flashlight, three more police officers stood behind them to the right. It was a tableau that could have been stage-managed by the late filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos: deliberately slow, long, a good deal of fuss over something extraneous.

On Monday morning, the eleventh floor of the New York City Criminal Court building filled up with a time-honored mix of optimistic activists who believed in justice and cynical reporters who boasted over who had been the first to cover Occupy. Most had to wait in the hall outside the courtroom, tapping their feet on green marble stepped on by countless innocents.

Then the two metal doors opened and an activist, not calling for a mike check, quietly informed all surrounding parties that Cecily McMillan, a young woman who had been found guilty of assaulting a police officer on the most draconian and iniquitous of pretexts, was sentenced to 90 days in jail, with five years probation. This was a far cry from the maximum sentence of seven years, but just long enough to annoy anyone with a social conscience. Just short enough for any random party to wonder what the fuss was about. Just perfect enough to trivialize a movement.

McMillan’s attorney Martin Stolar attempted to persuade Judge Zweibel to commute the sentence further. The judge would not budge from 90 days. McMillan read a statement. The judge would not budge from 90 days.

It was impossible to attend the sentencing and not feel as if you were inhabiting some preordained role as awkwardly rigged as the magnetometer. Once the courtroom had filled to capacity, it was pushed unceremoniously to the side of the door in minutes, as quickly as McMillan’s sentence.

Cecily McMillan will do her modest time and spend the rest of her young adulthood checking in with the authorities, released from their tendrils only after the last remaining flames of idealism have been doused from her spirit. She is, after all, on a leash. Can she still be a revolutionary? Or even the moderate that some Occupy activists have presented her as? Those who remain part of Occupy will preach to the choir, calling for more appeals and more petitions.

But Occupy succeeded not because of political stridency. It was amorphous enough to enliven the variegated strains in our national conscience. The movement still carries a formidable strength in finding quick organizational remedies to inflexible bureaucracy, seen with Occupy Sandy and still very much in place on Monday morning when several activists rapidly collected the phones that weren’t allowed in the courtroom with improvised identifying slips handed to owners. But I am not so sure what it can do beyond this. After the sentence, the crowd gathered across the street from the courthouse and sang songs and attempted to conjure a responsive plan to the McMillan sentence (they are also rallying tonight at Zuccotti Park), yet the strategies now feel flat and old hat. All because of a sentence that will be interpreted by most as no big deal. We certainly have the New York Police Department and Judge Zweibel to blame for this. But there may be a deeper problem.

As I stood in line, hoping to get into Zweibel’s courtroom this morning, I chatted with an African-American woman who identified herself as Aanis. She was waiting for another case in another chamber. She wondered if this seemingly indomitable group would stand up for her the next time she was arrested. But most ignored her. And as the Occupy protesters disseminated literature, passing me up because I’m the kind of man who tends to go to the courthouse wearing a suit and tie and they presumed I’d be uninterested, I had some idea of what she was talking about.

ows5

Occupy Wall Street: One Year Later

They put up the steel grille barricades around the edge of Zuccotti Park on the first anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, leaving a few hundred protesters looking for a workaround under the bright red cube sculpture across Broadway. But a few hours later on the other side of the park, a smiling group situated on the edge of Trinity Place was busy with brushes and thin placards. They were painting peace signs and placing these signs around the perimeter on a soft bed of newspaper to dry: bright green life and hopeful ovals just under the drab barrier prohibiting the perfect circle of year one.

The protesters were matched in number by cops, many in riot gear. And they swarmed with a hunger for arrest. Numerous whiteshirts had been unrustled from their beds at an early hour and many seemed indignant about the renewed duties. I observed one whiteshirt shove his way through a crowd at Nassau Street, his meaty hand giving a hard singular push at any shoulder that got in his way. The checkpoints around Wall Street felt thicker, more reminiscent of East Berlin. Like last year, there were police mounted on horses beyond these points. But as the morning rolled on, the New York Police Department opted for motorcycles, later parking them neatly and voluminously next to the Charging Bull, guarded so beyond measure that you almost wondered if the cops had received some weird lead about two hundred armed men planning the biggest theft in human history.

It was the absence of visible activism for so long that made the authority feel more formidable. The extra force inspired the cops, with their bright white ties swaying from their belts, to manacle more people and make more arrests. By 3:30 PM on Monday, the official tally was 146 people nabbed for disorderly conduct. This included the artist Molly Crabapple, at least one NYU professor, three handicapped activists, and a few journalists. There were rumors circulating that the figure was close to 200. Some people told me that the cops were dragging people off the sidewalk to arrest them for stepping onto the street, but I didn’t see anything like this. But during one highly charged moment near Nassau Street, I witnessed four people arrested in less than five minutes.

The protesters were peaceful and calm, but this was not the ragtag group that had formed one year ago. It was a seasoned crew familiar with the stakes of income inequality and what they were in for if they got arrested. They felt the rightful need to claim their anniversary, often doing so with messages scribbled into the sidewalk with colored chalk. Three people said happy birthday to me over the course of a few hours, and the tone was so sincere that I wondered for a mite if some authority had changed my birthday to September 17th without bothering to alert me before coming to my senses. There was music and glitter emitted into the air. There was impromptu dancing, often in the middle of intersections. I was especially fond of the “crow technique” that a group of students adopted at the corner of Cedar and Broadway, which involved fluttering their arms into the air and making pleasant squawking sounds.

But when protesters repeatedly shouted “Shame!” for the umpteenth time in response to an arrest, a few protesters next to me remarked on how shame had lost its meaning. The hysterical calls to “Arrest the bankers! They’re the real criminals!” felt more like a dull platitude than a careful considered irony. There was also a bleaker humor this time around, with some protesters dressed as doctors and leaving “blood money” around the area. Their hands were saturated in fake blood, and it was doubtful that Rick Santorum would shake them.

It’s pretty clear that Wall Street has no interest in beginning a meaningful dialogue with the Occupy movement, yet the neighborhood isn’t quite willing to accept the protesters as a regular fixture. I watched one angry white collar man stomp out bright red balloons outside a building with an amazing ire, as if they were newly discovered mice scurrying around the floor of a ritzy apartment. I listened to another man, putting in four orders and wrestling with an allotment of hastily collected twenty dollar bills, complain to a delicatessen worker about how nobody else in the office wanted to leave the office and get breakfast. I saw a scavenger pick up bottles and cans for extra cash. There were still blue-collar workers on the clock and they moved dollies through the thick streets with a great patience. There were more people in the streets, but it was business as usual.

johnpike

2011: The Year in Broken Windows

Alexis Madrigal: “Brooklyn College sociologist Alex Vitale, who has specialized in tracking police tactical changes, found that the the ‘broken windows’ theory of policing, which was introduced to a national audience by this very magazine, has also had a major impact on protest policing. As we wrote in 1982, broken windows policing did not attempt to directly fight violent crime but rather the ‘sense that the street is disorderly, a source of distasteful, worrisome encounters.’ As Vitale would put it, the theory ‘created a kind of moral imperative for the police to restore middle class values to the city’s public spaces.’ When applied to protesters, the strategy has meant that any break with the NYPD’s behavioral preferences could be grounds for swift arrest and/or physical violence.”

* * *

In the December 2011 issue of Philadelphia Magazine, there was a list printed on Page 72 with the heading which read THINGS WE NEED TO GET RID OF. Among the items listed? The Mummers. Poet CA Conrad went onto Philadelphia Magazine‘s Facebook page and demanded that it write a letter of apology. There was no response. He kept writing. He was blocked from the site. So Conrad went to the magazine’s office in person. He was polite. He did not yell. He asked to speak with the online editor. He was told no one was in. Nobody had the courage to talk with him. Instead, the Philadelphia Magazine receptionist called the police. “The truth is that they were embarrassed by what I was saying,” wrote Canto on his blog. “And they gloated over my removal from the office on Face Book. Oh, and while I was being escorted OUT, one of the magazine’s enforcers said that I was to be arrested if I ever stepped foot inside the building again. NICE!” (I learned of this story from HTML Giant.)

* * *

“Behavioral preferences.” That’s not unlike the highly elastic term “juvenile delinquency.”

* * *

A parent in Calvert County, Maryland wrote into The Bay Net. Her six-year-old daughter Brianna had made an “inappropriate comment” at Dowell Elementary, saying she was going to kill another student. This was a joke. She was pulled from recess by a teacher and ordered to sit and wait in various administrative rooms. Brianna assured the principal that she was only joking and that she had no intent of killing her fellow students. Despite her confession, the principal then grilled Brianna about her home life. Other students were brought in. One of Brianna’s good friends was pressured to rat her out — this, after she had already confessed as to the nature of her comment. The parent asked in her letter, “How do you justify not calling the parent of a six year old and holding her in the office for 2 hrs asking her about her life at home over an innocent comment? Do not get me wrong, I know what she said was inappropriate but to all that know my daughter know that she would never intentionally hurt anyone!! How do you justify treating her this way? This is the problem, noone will or can justify this to me. I email jack smith the super of cc schools, I of course get pushed onto someone else who calls me asks me what happens and about the only response I get it ‘well as ling as you do understand what she did was wrong!’ Really? I have yet to speak to the super as I’m told he is very busy with meetings….!”

* * *

The Guardian: “James Harding, speaking at the Society of Editors conference on Monday, was talking days after Tom Watson accused James Murdoch in parliament of being the ‘first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise.’ A clearly irritated Murdoch responded that he thought this was an ‘inappropriate’ comment.”

* * *

Etymology for irritated: 1530s, “stimulate to action, rouse, incite,” from L. irritatus, pp. of irritare “excite, provoke.” An earlier verb form was irrite (mid-15c.), from O.Fr. irriter. Meaning “annoy, make impatient” is from 1590s.

It took only six decades for “irritate” to have its meaning corrupted.

* * *

At a Cannes press conference on May 18, 2011, the filmmaker Lars von Trier stated, “I understand Hitler but I think he did some wrong things yes absolutely but I can see him sitting in his bunker.” These words were received with understandable umbrage. Von Trier apologized the next day, purporting that his remarks were meant in jest. “I am not anti-Semitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi.” Despite this apology, he was banned from the Cannes Film Festival, declared persona non grata with the decision supported by French culture minister Frederic Mitterand. Mitterand remarked of the ban, “There is a major difference between a film that was chosen in a calm atmosphere and a director who clearly blew a fuse.” Yet in 2009, Mitterand protested Roman Polanski’s September 26 arrest in Amsterdam, “To see him thrown to the lions and put in prison because of ancient history — and as he was traveling to an event honoring him — is absolutely horrifying.” Why are terrible words uttered in 2011 more “horrifying” than terrible action in 1977? It took a day for Lars von Trier to apologize and nearly 35 years for Polanski to apologize.

* * *

In January 2011, the BBC apologized for remarks made by Stephen Fry on the comedy quiz show, QI Fry had made a quip about Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a man who had survived both the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fry called Yamaguchi “the unluckiest man in the world.” Japanese viewers, watching the clip on YouTube, became irate and wrote in. Japanese blogger Yuko Kato wrote: “So, in this sad case, literally a comedy of errors, the lack of knowing and understanding goes both ways. The BBC and the people involved in the QI segment (including Stephen Fry, whom I dearly love) failed to anticipate Japanese sensitivities; and if they had but still went on with the broadcast then that’s even worse. For as a Japanese (despite my unabashed love of British comedy), I was very uncomfortable with the segment, especially with the audience tittering. On the other hand (no limbs left), most of the Japanese public have absolutely no idea what British humour is about; they simply don’t know that it’s a form of expression that strives to tell things like it is, that it’s an art form that tries to illuminate all the foolishness and idiosyncracies and negativities of the world through irony.”

* * *

In February, fashion designer Kenneth Cole tweeted, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.” Outrage ensued.

* * *

DJ Gardner was ranked the 64th best college basketball player in the country. He was a freshman forward standing six-foot-seven, an accomplished shooter described by a former high school coach as “an unselfish kid” who understood that it didn’t matter which player made the points. He was wooed by Mississippi State, told by the smiling men that he’d get serious time on the court and, like any hardworking kid baffled by the two other young men rotating as shooting guard, agreed to a redshirt year for the freshman season. On Twitter, he let off some steam:

These bitches tried to fuck me over.. That’s y I red shirted .. But I wish my homies a great ass season.. I don’t even know y I’m still here

He called the top brass “liars.” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury booted Gardner off the team for his tweeting, claiming his words to be “repeated action detrimental to the team.” And while Gardner’s mother, Angela, was hardly happy with the behavior of her son and the coach, she said, “I felt like there should’ve been some communication.”

* * *

On July 3, 2011, Charles Hill was shot by BART police in the Civic Center station in San Francisco. Hill was drunk. He pulled a knife and threw it at the floor. And the police shot and killed Hill. Witnesses reported that Hill had neither ran nor lunged at the two cops. The police claimed Hill was using an open liquor bottle as a weapon. BART police chief Kenton Rainey claimed he was “comfortable” with the decision of his men.

This brutal incident led many to exercise their First Amendment rights to protest Hill’s death. But on August 11, 2011, BART muzzled cell phone service at four stations, ridding the protesters of their right to coordinate a peaceful assembly. The ACLU of Northern California replied:

All over the world people are using mobile devices to organize protests against repressive regimes, and we rightly criticize governments that respond by shutting down cell service, saying it’s anti democratic and a violation of the right to free expression and assembly. Are we really willing to tolerate the same silencing of protest here in the United States?

* * *

On November 21, 2011, a Kansas high school student named Emma Sullivan attended a Youth in Government program, listening to a speech by Governor Sam Brownback and ridiculing him on Twitter under the hashtag “#heblowsalot.” Brownback’s office spotted Sullivan’s tweet during “routine media monitoring” and forced Sullivan’s principal to ask Sullivan to write an apology letter. Sullivan refused, but she did say, “I think it would be interesting to have a dialogue with him. I don’t know if he would do it or not though. And I don’t know that he would listen to what I have to say.” Sullivan’s mother said that she wasn’t angry with her daughter. The story made the rounds. Brownback issued an apology.

* * *

On the afternoon of July 19, 2011, I was contacted by a detective from the Cheverly Police Department. The detective was a nice and reasonable guy. He explained to me that blogger and critic Mark Athitakis was accusing me of harassment. What was so harassing? Several comments — all under my real name, really a bunch of silly performance art that I had been leaving intermittently over the last few months, nothing intended to harm and more than a bit absurdist — one evoking a fictitious Shakespeare quote reading “let’s kill the critics” and the like. I told the detective that these comments were clearly satirical. That a comment containing the lyrics for Rebecca Black’s “Friday” could not possibly be written with violence or threats in mind. The detective agreed that he and I both had better things to do with his time. He was merely checking up on the complaint that he received.

At no time did Mark ever contact me personally to (a) clarify the beef that he has with me, (b) state that I was harassing him. He did email me on July 14th, writing, “Your behavior is abusive, disrespectful, and unacceptable. It has to stop.” I emailed him a suggestion on how to clear things up, writing, “If you want to use this email as an opportunity, then I’m all ears.” He repeated the same line in another email on July 15th. I replied, “This comment is not abusive. Here are the facts: you have no sense of humor, you are disrespectful of my thoughts and voice, and you cannot take criticism.”

That was the last direct contact I had with Athitakis. I did not visit his site again until July 19, 2011, when I was attempting to explain the situation to the detective. So Athitakis must have filed the complaint with the Cheverly Police Department after this exchange.

* * *

On October 2, 2011, then New York Times freelance journalist Natasha Lennard was arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge while covering the Occupy Wall Street protests. On October 14, 2011, she spoke before a panel at Blue Stockings, expressing her opinions about organizing protests and using colorful language. A right-wing website, unable to see the distinction between reporting and opinion, posted the video with speculation, demanding “appropriate disciplinary action against Lennard” and asking her to rat out “any potential planned criminal activity by Occupy activists.”

Natasha Lennard responded with a Salon essay, “Why I quit the mainstream media”:

As the Times publicly noted, they found no problem with any of the reporting I had done for them on OWS. Indeed, a court hearing upheld that I had been on the Brooklyn Bridge as a professional journalist and as such, deserved to have the disorderly conduct charge against me dismissed. The only reason I was on the Brooklyn Bridge that day was as a reporter, gathering and relaying information on what I saw, and nothing else. However, as has become clear, if I — or any other journalist — want to express a strong opinion on a political matter, I cannot contemporaneously report for a mainstream publication.

* * *

From a New York Times opinion piece written by Rebecca MacKinnon (November 15, 2011):

Adding to the threat to free speech, recent academic research on global Internet censorship has found that in countries where heavy legal liability is imposed on companies, employees tasked with day-to-day censorship jobs have a strong incentive to play it safe and over-censor — even in the case of content whose legality might stand a good chance of holding up in a court of law. Why invite legal hassle when you can just hit “delete”?

The potential for abuse of power through digital networks — upon which we as citizens now depend for nearly everything, including our politics — is one of the most insidious threats to democracy in the Internet age. We live in a time of tremendous political polarization. Public trust in both government and corporations is low, and deservedly so. This is no time for politicians and industry lobbyists in Washington to be devising new Internet censorship mechanisms, adding new opportunities for abuse of corporate and government power over online speech.

owsd1

Occupy Wall Street: The Morning They Didn’t Clean the Park

They were saying on Thursday night that it was all over for the protesters. Brookfield Properties, the owner of Zuccotti Park, had asked the NYPD to uproot the people who had been occupying their park. Mayor Bloomberg had said it would be clean on Friday morning at 7 AM. And there were petitions and pleas and hues and cries. Just after midnight, I was paying attention to the cracks of thunder and the white lightning flashes and the hard rain rapping against the pane of my window in Brooklyn. I was reading reports of protesters shouting with joy against the heavens. They didn’t give a damn if they were being doused. Yet I fretted hard about the whole scene and couldn’t sleep and hit the subway station less than two hours after these ruminations, hitting the subway station close to the golden palindromic time of 2:22 AM.

While waiting for the train, I listened to a thin middle-aged man loosen his incoherent rap addressed to our present President from some semblance of a Black Power haze, conflating a CIA conspiracy to flood drugs into poor neighborhoods with an anti-Semitic plot involving 9/11. His umbrella nib stabbed through the air with each improvised line. In ten or fifteen years, could this be an Occupy Wall Street protester? Not out of the question. A little more than a week before, I went to Zuccotti and the surrounding areas after the Foley Square arrests. The open talk had transmuted into something more quiet and cautious after mikes caught quite a lot but sullied the message. There had been talk of interlopers and intruders and betrayers. And while hardly an expert in American politics, I knew my history, remembering how it had all fizzled out in the years before my existence. The thin middle-aged man gave me an opportunity for more sentimental equations, and I couldn’t shake my heart’s troubling tendency to play the long game.

When I hit Zuccotti on a very early Friday morning, the park was more pristine than I expected. The protesters were determined to keep it clean. The trash was neatly packed in careful sheaths. I observed a plastic lid on the ground, then watched as it was scooped up by a stray hand a mere thirty seconds later. Such stunning efficiency reminded me of Disneyland’s garbage policy.

The mood was more sanguine than the previous week. Two vehicles, circling round and round and round the park, were capturing images. I was certain that my face was now in a database.

“Hey guys,” shouted an enthusiastic man, “instead of surveilling, why don’t you check out the 24/7 live stream?”

It was a little before four. The TV news vans were mostly parked on the other side of Cedar. Their insides were dark, still as coffins. I looked above at the mannequins in a Men’s Wearhouse, their dead forms serving as sentries for the lively sea I was swimming in. Then I watched a man in a Santa Claus suit sweeping the curb. Thinking of the approaching winter, I wondered if this morning cleanup, this last moment of dignity, was the end of the movement.

I walked around, didn’t see any apparent plan for seven that morning. One sanitation car, one garbage truck. If the authorities had something up their sleeves, it was as unplanned as lint in a belly button. Not long before, Bill O’Reilly had called the Occupy Wall Street protesters “drug-trafficking crackheads.” But the only smells in the air were cigarettes and incense and the fresh urban aura that settles in just after a storm. Narcotics? The only person who came close was a Wikileaks reporter making a pleasant show about cadging a cancer stick. And who can blame him? He was one of the few reporters the protesters trusted, probably because most of the media had dead opportunism in their incurious gazes. I watched a dark-haired radio reporter in his early thirties, a dutiful employee wearing a tie, talk with a man who had been fired in 2009, a man who was trying to explain why he and his fellow protesters were there. The reporter quoted some circuit case, but it was his eyes that unsettled me. They were more concerned with winning rather than listening, perfunctory as a man trapped in a weekend escrow seminar.

It was difficult to ignore the media presence. As more reporters settled around Zuccotti’s perimeter, with few of them wishing to enter the square, the scene resembled some Mephistophelean metaphor from a Scorsese movie: more steam pluming from the grates on the corner of Liberty and Broadway, a plump and devilish photographer staring rabidly at his recently snapped images with a cigarette undulating up and down in his mouth like some phallic fount and backlighted by the harsh gleam of a TV news camera. In fact, the more these media types were concerned with image, the bigger their waistlines tended to be. It was almost as their cameras badgered their torsos into requiring more space.

“Nobody really marches anymore,” complained an anxious and experienced protester behind me. “We’re out there for America and they don’t even appreciate this.”

I chalked this up to raw nerves. What the protester didn’t know was that in a few hours, the collective hope would be vindicated. For now, more blue boys had arrived at Broadway. The human microphone system had adjusted itself to the city’s noise code. But when it came time to respond with jubilation, the protesters lived up to the bargain.

There was a Superman and two Captain Americas in the crowd. I wondered if there was some crossover between Occupy Wall Street and New York Comic Con. I had obtained press credentials for the latter many months before, but I had decided to blow it off. It seemed superficial in light of recent developments. One Captain America told me that he was tempted to go on Sunday when the tickets were cheaper. But it was clear that Zuccotti needed more superheroes than Jacob Javits. And the superheroes I observed – even the ones with Alan Moore’s Guy Fawkes homage – didn’t really need costumes. It wasn’t a surprised that their masks stayed mostly off.

I saw a kid peacefully sleeping on the perch on the park’s western corner and, vexed by what was set to go down in less than an hour, I became very protective. But he woke up and I was relieved. I walked back to Broadway and I stole wifi from McDonald’s. While snickering over this strange irony, I saw a guy trying to pick a fight. Something about twelve hundred dollars, one guy bopped on the nose. The NYPD stepped in and issued citations. The protesters urged those surrounding this duo to stay calm and nonviolent. This was to be a running theme of the morning.

People who wear T-shirts and who have a week’s worth of stubble (my mien on Friday) get different answers from protesters than people who wear ties. Even so, the protesters had been here long enough to employ caution. After two weeks, you had to be an old timer to get any bites. And I had only been at Zuccotti about seven times. So I spent most of the time just observing.

Still, the protesters were kind. Two asked how I was doing, perhaps sussing me out. A hearty man who identified himself as Keeper of the Trail Mix offered me a generous portion. Two men circled the perimeter swinging incense. There was a peaceful ding from a bell. “Good morning. Good morning. Spread the love.” DING! “Good morning. Good morning. Spread the love.” Ginsberg’s “oms” would not have been out of place.

Then, with less than an hour to go before the 7AM showdown, the blue boys began clearing the sidewalk on Zuccotti’s Broadway edge. But this precious isthmus between the edge of the protesters and the cops, tricky to negotiate on scant sleep, narrowed. And it thinned further when the union men came in with pickets decrying the NYPD standing up only for the rich.

“I’m trying to move!” shouted a burly man at a cop as the throngs thickened. “Don’t push me!” I hoped it wasn’t a harbinger of things to come. I squeezed in and out of the mass; it now took about five minutes to wade through the pea soup of a crowd. I noticed that the cops had formed phalanx positions at the two open corners of Broadway.

But revolutionary talk stayed strong. “We….are….the 99%!” shouted the crowd. I watched two empty NYPD buses shuttle down Broadway. The crowd remained very confident, but I did notice workers squeezing in between the cops and the barricades and wondered what was up.

Then word arrived that the Zuccotti cleanup would be delayed and there were cries and cheers. I hadn’t been quite sure of the news, in part because it seemed anticlimactic, but another man confirmed it. And the promise of a new plan, intimated by the double-layered trickle of repetition only minutes before, had come to fruition. But what to do?

“All week, all day, marching down Broadway!” shouted some people. There was a guy with a whistle. But for some reason this pledge didn’t catch on. There was still a tremendous cluster in Zuccotti. As the daylight arrived, I somehow caught on to this two step gambit and followed the group, finding myself near the head of the march.

Then there was a call to march on Wall Street – a celebratory response to recent developments. And the people with whistles piped in time to “Whose street? / Our street!” At first, they walked slow. A smiling woman stood atop a trash can, shaking her fist in unison to the chant. I liked her a lot. Another woman raised her open pink umbrella into the sky. I liked her a lot too. We were close to Bowling Green Park. I saw the two empty police buses that I had noticed earlier parked to the right. I was troubled by the police presence at the other end, which was close to the Charging Bull (protected by the same grille barricades used at Zuccotti). Were they leading us into a trap similar to the Brooklyn Bridge?

Judging by the number of bandanas over various mouths, the other protesters had the same worry. If I had to be pepper spayed, so be it. At the head of the march, many protesters had taken the brooms from Zuccotti, sweeping them along the surface of Broadway. It was a perfect protest metaphor.

Then the march rounded a corner towards New Street, with many protesters hopping a diagonally raised platform. “Banks got bailed out! / We got sold out!” A normal-looking guy, around my age and close to my male pattern baldness (I like to look out for my fellow balding members) and wearing a blue T-shirt, held a simple sign reading SAVE THE MIDDLE CLASS, with two humble red stars. He stood out from the others, and I wondered if he was part of the fresh influx that MoveOn had called upon.

But then the crowd began to run, for reasons unknown. At first, I thought it was general euphoria. But there seemed a genuine rush to run down the street, followed by protesters chanting “Walk! Walk!” to prevent any problems. And then we reached a new set of barriers, with a few white shirts and boys in blue. And I wondered again if we were being deliberately trapped. Being near the head of the group, I walked along the length of the barricades with the other protesters, bathed in the red neon light of freshly opened cafes to my right. And at the other end, there were several police mounted on horseback. White shirts commanded me to move on the sidewalk. “Keep walking,” they shouted. I ambled around in a slight daze. Somehow I ended up in the middle of the street, away from the barricades. I looked up and saw several horses headed my direction, with one mounted cop looking directly my way.

Not really knowing the protocol for how mounted policemen contend with guys drifting into the street, I felt the best course of action was to keep walking down Broad Street. Surely the other protesters would be behind me. They were not. It looked as if the NYPD were closing the protesters in. I somehow ended up in a Starbucks on Broad and Beaver, where the sight of mild-mannered white collar workers, many of them miserable, grabbing lattes before work proved a strange contrast to the recent excitement. I stole wifi from this Starbucks, as is my wont with a Starbucks, and attempted to consult Twitter to find out what the hell was going on. The signal was intermittent. I was only able to send tweets. So I returned to the streets, where I saw cops approaching with white ties dangling on their belts moving down Beaver.

I had asked a few people if there were any arrests. They said that there weren’t. But the great irony is that, only a few minutes later, after I was trying to find the march again, five people would be arrested at the very corner where I had just found refuge.

I did manage to pick up one part of the march again, greatly enjoying someone who had gone to the trouble of dressing in a shark costume, top half covered by giant jaws. The march turned left again on New Street, following the same pattern as before. I intercepted the march again when it headed down Beaver. There was a great roar of beeps from the cars moving in the other direction. I was to hear Wall Street workers grumble disapprovingly about traffic. But then there were about five NYPD scooters that pushed forward against this traffic in the street. Not quite Corman’s The Wild Angels in reverse, but I was still curious. At first, they appeared to be amicably following the protesters on their march. But I was later to see that some on these scooters were trying to intimidate protesters. I was relatively safe, somehow scooped up with all the video cameras that were following the angry red rear lights. In the distance, I saw one protester stand in front of the scooters, pacing back slowly. Then a scooter roared inches past me to my right. (Later in the morning, one of these scooters would run over a protester’s foot.) The protesters ran again. I saw a white shirt run into the street, his hand reaching to his belt, and I didn’t know if he was going to raise hell. So I pointed my camera at him and started filming. He saw my camera and then beat a retreat forward.

And then something amazing happened. An entire circle of protesters surrounded the scooters. They shouted, “The whole world is watching!” Behind us, a band arrived, composed of drums, horns, and flutes, and all dressed in green shirts. In the mad rush, I didn’t catch what group this was. But I appreciated their peppy offerings. And I wasn’t alone. There was a guy with a thatchy green scarf around his neck and a burgundy sweater who was clapping his hands and swaying his body to the music. He was nodding his head at his friends and smiling wide.

A witness later told me that five people had been arrested at Broad and Beaver. I decided to track back and noticed that there was a huge police presence moving down Broad – perhaps sixty cops. I decided to follow them. But when the last cop made it past the barricade, they closed the opening behind them. So much for my stealth tactic.

I decided the best option was to return back to Zuccotti. The mood there had not been broken, but the police presence remained strong. When I walked past Wall Street and saw a barricade manned by several police, with a few cops checking the IDs for all employees walking through, this was a dispiriting sight, like unexpectedly setting foot into an old Eastern European country. I decided that I had dodged enough arrests and barricades for one day.

It was Friday morning and it wasn’t over for the protesters. I headed home to grab a few hours of sleep.

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Occupy Wall Street: After the Brooklyn Bridge

On Saturday night, I returned to Zuccotti Park. It was 55 degrees. Winds lashed at tarp and tents, flapping up flaps and whipping at sleeping bags. But the protesters remained calm and good-natured. Some spun hula hoops around their bodies as the calls and responses carried on.

“The rain is really the only obstacle,” said a protester who had been at Occupy Wall Street from the beginning. “Tonight’s the only night that it’s been actually cold.”

He informed me that there were plenty of Mylar blankets and sleeping bags at the comfort station — the results of ample donations.

A man who had once worked on Wall Street and who lived five blocks away was leading the crowd:

“I think you people aren’t crazy.”

“I THINK YOU PEOPLE AREN’T CRAZY.”

“I love the way you communicate.”

“I LOVE THE WAY YOU COMMUNICATE.”

“The world has noticed your voice.”

“THE WORLD HAS NOTICED YOUR VOICE.”

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A rumor had circulated that Marines were coming all the way from Florida on behalf of the protesters, to protect them from the NYPD. “I didn’t fight for Wall Street,” posted serviceman Ward Reilly on his Facebook wall. “I fought for America.” Reilly had pledged that a Marine formation would be held that night. But the Marines hadn’t yet turned up in Zucotti Park. They must have been tied up in traffic.

I talked with a young man, who identified himself to me as “Big Ben” and who was busy blowing bubbles.

“I just picked this thing up a second ago,” said Ben. “I saw it on the ground. I figured that I could just dip it like I am and the wind would take care of everything else.”

I had arrived shortly before 10:00 PM: only a few hours after 700 people had been arrested at the Brooklyn Bridge. On Saturday afternoon, protesters had decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Police blocked the bike path, leading them down the main road, where orange nets and arrests awaited. Natasha Lennard, a freelance reporter for The New York Times, was one of those arrested. An NYPD spokesman had informed me earlier in the evening that most of these protesters would be charged with disorderly conduct at minimum and that some would be singled out for additional offenses.

(Image via Brenda Norrell.)

I was uncertain who was at fault. As it turned out, The New York Times didn’t know either. Within twenty minutes, the New York Times had shifted the blame on its website (adding Al Baker to the byline) from the police to the protesters.

[10/2/11 PM UPDATE: The Voice's Nick Greene talked with the New York Times City Room about the changes, which include disappearing paragraphs and the videos that the Times relied on for its version of the events. As Bucky Turco has tweeted, there's a mysterious edit in the second video.]

I talked with Jesse, a friendly and excitable young man with a $100,000 education in industrial design and no job prospects. He had arrived at Zuccotti Park that very day from Philly. He had been at the Brooklyn Bridge and spoke of “awesome photos.” His story cast some aspersions on the revised New York Times angle.

“I’ll tell you exactly what happened!” said Jesse. “They pushed people. They blocked. I think the goal was to go on the bike path. And every one of the cops were in front of the bike path. So everybody walked down on the road. ‘Hey guys! This way!’ That’s what they did. And so everybody went down that way.”

But Jesse got the sense that something was up.

“I was standing there for a couple of minutes,” continued Jesse. “But after like ten minutes of me going like, ‘Guys, if you don’t go, I’m going to go without you.’ I just fucking left. I was not getting arrested. I was too close! I was walking forward. I leave them. And I see all these hands go blazing down underneath the bridge. And they come up behind the protesters.”

Jesse hopped the fence to escape arrest.

“So as I’m going the other direction, there’s fucking four New York buses backing out and backing all the way onto the bridge with the cops. And they’re getting ready to fucking arrest everybody.”

I asked Jesse if he knew why people started walking on the road when the bike lane had been blocked. Whose idea was it?

“It wasn’t an idea,” he said. “It was ‘Well, the cops wanted us to go this way. So we’ll go this way.’ Do you know what I mean? It was like nonpassive. You have people, police there. And you have no police there. So nonpassive. You don’t go through the cops. You go around the cops. You know what I mean? We’re not trying to hurt anybody. We just want to yell and scream.”

Jesse also confirmed reports that police had singled out men for arrests more than women, telling me of a woman with a dog who was able to get around the tape at the other end by dint of possessing a pet.

You can listen to my interview with Jesse here:

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slutwalknyc11

Occupy Wall Street: SlutWalk NYC

They came from as far away as San Diego and Delaware to participate in SlutWalk, holding signs that read CONSENT IS SEXY and WE DEMAND RESPECT. This was part of a wave of protests initiated in April in Toronto and continuing with additional walks in Australia, Chicago, and London. SlutWalk’s ostensible purpose is to protest associations between rape and appearance. Women (and some men) dress slutty in an attempt to take back the word.

“I think it’s going to have a definite impact on the people who we can talk to and who we can reach out to,” said Andrea, part of a group of fifty women who identified themselves as the Delaware Sluts. “Because so many people think that women are raped because of the way they dress or the way they present themselves. Or they’re too drunk. But, you know, that’s not always the case.”

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On Saturday morning, many hundreds gathered in Union Square to bring this movement to New York City. I decided to attend because I was curious about the philosophical overlap between SlutWalk and Occupy Wall Street.

I was to discover some startling differences. When I began talking with people last week at Occupy Wall Street, a guy there slipped me his business card (containing a phone number right after “Press Inquiries”) without comment. I very much appreciated the swift nonchalance and unintrusive nature of this gesture. But when I wandered around with my microphone seeking to understand the SlutWalkers, I was informed by three separate people (one identifying herself as a “media coordinator”) that there was a media scrum on at 11:45. I observed another journalist get into a five minute discussion about the interview availability of one of the main organizers. The journalist was informed that the organizer’s schedule was quite busy.

It was as if the SlutWalk organizers were top-level politicians or entertainment figures who had to approve every interview request. Quite frankly, I didn’t have time for this. And I certainly didn’t experience anything like this at Occupy Wall Street. So I just walked around and talked with people.

This top brass tendency to drown out the very people who wanted to listen or have a conversation reached a comical crescendo when I talked with a very thoughtful participant named Jen, who was holding an endearingly geeky sign reading </patriarchy>. She had helped to organize SlutWalk San Diego.

As we were discussing protesting issues, another SlutWalk lieutenant — standing only a few feet away from us — boomed “Attention all media! We’re going to be having a media scrum in five minutes on the steps!” into her amplification device without warning. Second later, there was another “Attention all media!” from another lieutenant. This left Jen and I desperately seeking intermittent thirty second pockets to talk, hoping that the lieutenants weren’t going to bark over our conversation, which involved whether a political protest with a narrow message could attract the same 99 percent involved against Wall Street.

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Despite the martinet-minded organizers, most of the SlutWalkers didn’t prepare their signs in advance. The majority affixed marker to board shortly before their participation. It was almost as if they wanted to write out the first thing that came to their minds. I couldn’t help but compare this against some of the cardboard placards that had been placed in Zuccotti Park with more permanent messages in mind.

There was a fair amount of media at SlutWalk NYC. I liked the 1010 WINS reporter, who asked many thoughtful questions. I wasn’t impressed with the CNN crew, who proved so lazy that, when the WINS reporter was interviewing a SlutWalker at length, the CNN crew propped his camera up and hoped to siphon off the WINS reporter’s labor. Suddenly there were two mikes recording the woman’s words. I felt compelled to insert my own mike into the shot to make the woman look more important on screen. You can listen to what I recorded of the WINS exchange here:

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As seen by the way that the young man in the blue jacket checks out women in the above photograph, one little discussed aspect of the SlutWalk is the male gaze. I tried chasing this guy down after I had taken this photo. I wondered if his clipboard meant that he was an organizer or possibly a member of the media. It’s possible that his gaze was innocuous or that he was lost in thought.

Why is this important? Because I overheard a separate conversation between three young men on the perimeter of the protesting area. They didn’t know what the walk was all about. One of them, wearing an orange hoodie, shouted, “They say that women get raped because of what they wear. No, it’s because they crazy loons! If I’m in the jungle at two in the morning, there shouldn’t be crazy loons out there.” The man in the orange hoodie kept enunciating “crazy loons.” I tried to approach this man for a radio interview, curious if he could elaborate on his point and his curious redundancy, but he swiftly disappeared.

“Stop the rapes! It’s a global epidemic around the world! From babies — yes, babies are raped — to grannies! And that’s around the world! And in New York City, we have a rape epidemic! Rapes are up. The stats on rapes are up. And yet rapes are under reported. Because women don’t want to be cross-examined by Joe Tacopina and Chad Siegel. Women don’t want their vaginas compared to a Venus flytrap!”

This protester was especially vociferous in her tone. You can listen to some of her speech here:

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I was fortunate to meet Becky, another of the Delaware Sluts. She helped me clarify the origin of the group. I was grateful to learn that the Delaware Sluts was part of an on-campus feminist group called The V-Day Club. The group performs The Vagina Monologues every year to raise money for women’s charities. Hearing of the SlutWalk, they brought the whole group up via bus. Becky also told me that online mobilization was one of the reasons she and her friends were here.

“I read feminist blogs and stuff on the Internet,” said Becky. “And I know that a lot of other people in the organization do too. So I think a lot of people just found it by themselves and then came together through that.”

It sounded to me that, for many who were at Union Square, SlutWalk had come together in a manner not unlike Occupy Wall Street.

Becky confessed to me that she didn’t know a lot of details about Occupy Wall Street. She was still playing catchup.

“I’ve been reading a little bit about it just over the past week,” she said. “But it’s very basic information on my part. I don’t think that anybody feels that we can’t co-exist. I mean, issues are issues. But everybody needs to go out there and be heart. I don’t think it’s really diverting attention from either one.”

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But while Becky expressed a desire for peaceful unity between SlutWalk and Occupy Wall Street, I began to discover some unanticipated fissures. In search of SlutWalkers who didn’t fit into the demographic of mostly young women, I discovered a middle-aged couple named Murray and Sandy. Both were dressed up for the SlutWalk.

I asked them about Occupy Wall Street.

“I’m very aware of it,” said Murray. “I have a number of friends there. I think the message here is perhaps a little more clear and direct. Over there, it’s a little muddied. But, you know, we definitely wish them luck.”

“I’m not sure why they’re there,” interjected Sandy. “I mean, I know the economy sucks. But I’m not sure what picketing Wall Street is going to, you know, do to help the economy.”

I asked them why they thought the Slutwalk message was clearer than the Occupy Wall Street message.

“Cause this kind of stuff has been going on for as long as I’ve been alive, I think,” answered Sandy, who told me later that she used to work in Wall Street. (She also said later that she approved of Mayor Bloomberg’s parochial statement about bankers struggling to make ends meet.) “That women get accused of inviting rape or whatever by the way that they’re dressed.”

“This is an event that started from an idea with a message,” said Murray, “whereas Occupy Wall Street, I think, just came from…”

Sandy: “General dissatisfaction.”

Murray: “Let’s just go make noise and see what happens.”

When I pressed both of them further on their characterization of Occupy Wall Street as “just noise,” Murray defended SlutWalk as a permanent event and a planned event.

“It’s reasonable to work with authorities on something like this,” he said. “You want to find a compromise. We do have free speech in this society. And for the most part, it is granted. You just have to make compromises to make it work. And I think this is what happens when you make compromises. When you just kind of start showing up, you’re going to get a mass like you have down at Wall Street.”

You can listen to the fascinating five minute exchange I had with Murray and Sandy here:

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There seemed to me a very conservative thrust to the type of protesting Murray and Sandy were talking about. Occupy Wall Street’s message, while very general, had nevertheless managed to be more inclusive to the public. By contrast, SlutWalk’s more narrowly defined message caused about 500 people to show up on Saturday afternoon.

Yet SlutWalk’s “more clear and direct” message had also attracted participants like Veronica — another member of the Delaware Sluts. Veronica wore very little. When I asked Veronica if I could take her picture, she said, “No thank you.” (During our conversation, she told another person not to photograph her.) When I asked her why she was dressed the way that she had, she told me, “Well, I like how my body is. I love my body and I think I deserve the right to display it the way I want and not be judged because of it.” She told me that SlutWalk hadn’t pushed her over the edge on the issue of judgment and appearance, but that “guys at my college pushed me over the edge on that issue. I’m glad that we have this organization where we can display this dislike of people’s judgments.”

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owsb5

Occupy Wall Street: Friday Afternoon

On Friday afternoon, the crowd density at Occupy Wall Street had thickened quite a bit from earlier in the week. Many of the new attendees were journalists. I counted close to thirty media types as I canvassed Zuccotti Park, watching TV vans and cameramen and reporters taking notes on their notebooks and BlackBerries. I saw NY1, CNN, Slate, a concatenation of outlets I had not seen when I hit the park on Tuesday.

“Cough drops!” barked a man with several lozenges in his hand. “Get your cough drops! So when CNN talks with you, you’ll have a clear head for your ideas.”

I hit Zuccotti Park in the late afternoon: just before a march upon NYPD headquarters. I estimated the crowd at a few thousand. More poured into the park, some lured by the prospect of a rumored Radiohead appearance at 4PM.

While the park’s perimeter remained open to pedestrian traffic and the cops remained fairly calm (perhaps due to the heightened media), I wondered it the increased media attention would cause more people to come, testing the limits of occupation. I also wondered what plans the NYPD had in store. Cops clad in riot gear? By now, a hackneyed effort to intimidate. Yet across the street from the park, I noticed a badly dressed undercover cop, wearing sunglasses and very much on his own, feebly pretending to be an activist with brand new crutches and a limp that didn’t match the way he was clutching his aluminum.

When attending a large-scale event, it is often my practice to stand in one spot and listen to the surrounding people. The protesters were fully aware that they were putting on a show. Many greenhorns — some considering themselves journalists — had come to gawk. Their intent was to document. They wondered why these people were still sticking after two weeks. Some of the bona-fide journalists appeared to be mystified about why they had been assigned this story.

If these slogans and sentiments on cardboard and posterboard appear flip and cliched, what then is the best method to get a message across? In recent days, there has been a modest debate about whether the protesters should dress up and improve their aesthetic.

But from what I have seen in my visits to the park, it isn’t just scruffy kids wearing tie-dye tees. There are many lingering into the park from their day jobs, wearing dress shirts and backpacks. I suppose your sartorial flair depends on the degree to which you’re participating and how long you stick around. (For my own part, I was wearing a red George Orwell shirt.)

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Occupy Wall Street: Nine Conversations and a Protest Song

On Tuesday afternoon, I discovered this report from NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos. NPR hadn’t aired a single story in relation to the Occupy Wall Street protests, which I had reported about on Sunday in relation to the pepper spraying incident. I decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and attend the protests myself. What follows are nine conversations I had with various individuals at the protests.

Douglas: “I’m here because I’m American. I was born here in New York. I was born here in Manhattan.”

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Jeff and Miike came from Colorado.

Miike: “We came on Sunday specifically for this. And we decided we wanted to come down for the week also.”
Jeff: “We had already planned a trip to New York. And then they were talking about it on the radio station that I listen to in Denver. And they were saying there’s a total media blackout on this whole thing. And so I said I’m going to go down there. I called them up and said I’m going to go down there.”

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Dorjee: “I hope it brings it down completely and we get a completely new system of human respect with viable resources and fair trade, instead of I lend you. You, you need a thousand dollars. Okay, I’ll give you a thousand dollars if you pay me back $1,000 plus $200.”

Me to Dorjee: “Be careful with that fist. Because you’re trying to be peaceful, right?”

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Marvin was holding a sign that read JESUS IS NOT FOR CORPORATE GREED. What will the protest actually do?

Marvin: “It will make people more aware that we live in a capitalist system where more people are living in poverty than ever. And the most ironic part of it is that it’s a capitalist system, but we live off the Communists. We have to borrow money from Communists to even exist.”

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Mary was a tourist who had stopped by Liberty Square on the last day of her vacation.

Mary: “I’m surprised it hasn’t happened earlier. Now it has. I started following it on Twitter. And then I thought I’d come down and see what was happening.”

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Ed and Robin came to the protests all the way from West Virginia.

Robin: “The corporations have done a great job in dividing people, separating people into issues. People are coming together here and realizing that we have much more in common with each other than we do with the people who are trying to sell us on what a good way of life is here.”

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Ed and Robin were also kind enough to perform their song “Let ‘Em Eat Cake” for me. Here is Uncle Eddie & Robin’s website.

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Roman carried a sign calling for President Paris Hilton and had some unusual ideas about making sex appeal a more predominant characteristic than others.

Roman: “I’m an aspiring, you know, Paris Hilton. I want to just be able to live and party. I live with my parents right now but we don’t have much money. And I think that if Paris Hilton becomes President, you know, she can help everybody just party.”

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Brian worked very close to Liberty Square. He was checking out the protests on his lunch break.

Brian: “This is funny anyway. [indicating sign] I mean, who hasn’t tried to go to school looking for a job when they first get out of school. I mean, that’s what we all do. It’s hard to find a job. But, like anything, you continue to look and try until you find one and do what most of us have done.”

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[EDITORIAL NOTE: Please note that an earlier version of this story misidentified "Steven Levy" as "Wired senior writer Steven Levy." Reluctant Habits expresses its apologies to Wired's Steven Levy and greatly regrets the error.]

As I was circling Liberty Square and talking with many people about what it meant to protest, I observed an older man berating a young man going by the name of Matt. It was the only contentious banter I had observed in what was otherwise a peaceful gathering — complete with donated food, plentiful signs laid along the ground, activists singing protest songs on banjos and guitars, and even a library established in close proximity to the main dais.

I was curious about what had caused this older man to lose his gasket. Because while I had talked with people who did not approve of the protest (including some cops who declined to go on the record, but all NYPD officers I observed were calm and professional), the older man was the only one prepared to go ballistic. This being a public space, I naturally began recording audio and approached the shrieking man, hoping that I might use this moment to generate a civil discussion. But the man, who identified himself as “Steven Levy” (not to be confused with the Wired senior writer) wasn’t especially interested in explaining to me why he was upset at Matt.

“He and I were just talking with another woman,” explained Matt after the exchange. “And I think they’re more on the liberal interventionist side of the economic policies — at least in terms of their opinions. And I was like saying, ‘Look, I’m personally against Keynesianism. Because I think Keynes is all about government spending. And I don’t believe government is a good allocator of spending.'”

This position apparently infuriated Levy. When I approached Levy and Matt, Matt was explaining to Levy that the two of them were on the same side. Levy responded, “You don’t read well.”

I decided to intervene. I merely wanted to know what Matt was misrepresenting. The results can be listened to below:

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pepperspray

Occupy Wall Street: Was the NYPD Authorized to Pepper Spray Peaceful Observers?

On Saturday, the New York Police Department arrested approximately 80 people — many participating as part of Occupy Wall Street, a peaceful protest against Wall Street and the economy.

But one incident suggests very strongly that the NYPD exceeded its authority and failed to follow appropriate procedure. In videos that have been making the rounds in the past 24 hours, three bystanders — all occupying the street and captured inside orange netting erected by the police — shout “What are you doing?” and “Oh my God!” in response to unseen arrests in the distance. The women, who offer no resistance or violent behavior, are seen and heard shrieking in pain as police officers pepper spray them without any apparent warning. On the main video, the young woman on the right clutches her hand over her mouth in shock, looking around and doing nothing, just standing there. She is clearly unaware that she is about to be maced. (The Daily Kos’s MinistryOfTruth talked with one of the women. She confessed in the report that she had no idea what prompted the attack.)

Two police officers clad in white shirts approach the women. One of them is equipped with pepper spray. He has been busy off-screen. He points fiercely at the three penned women, barking, “You guys are all going to be going” — presumably in response to the legitimate question “What are you doing?” The young woman on the right, still stunned, stretches out her hand. And he responds by spraying her in the face with pepper spray. He moves his arm to the right and sprays the others.

As the three women scream in pain and flail their arms, the netted orange perimeter is broadened. But not a single police officer steps inside to aid the women, much less arrest them. Other people scream for someone to bring water to the three women.

Here is the original video:

Here is the original video slowed down:

Here is the incident from another angle:

The NYPD would not confirm with The Gothamist whether or not it used pepper spray in any of the arrests. Yet the videos clearly indicate that it did. According to CBS News, the NYPD called every arrest justified. But an equally important question is this: Why did these officers consider the use of OC justifiable against these peaceful observers?

These three videos contain enough information about the macing incident to reconstruct a substantial portion of it. Reluctant Habits has also obtained a 2005 edition of the New York Police Department Patrol Guide, which outlines the specific use of pepper spray in Section 212-95. By the 2005 standards and based on the available evidence, it is clear that the NYPD did not follow appropriate measures.

In most cases, pepper spray is used to effect the arrest of a resisting subject. And the Patrol Guide specifies five uses for OC pepper spray:

  • Protect self, or another from unlawful use of force (e.g., assault)
  • Effect an arrest, or establish physical control of a subject resisting arrest
  • Establish physical control of a subject attempting to flee from arrest or custody
  • Establish physical control of an emotionally disturbed person (EDP)
  • Control a dangerous animal, by deterring an attack, to prevent injury to persons
    or animals present.

We see in the above videos that the women were not assaulting the police officers (unless stretching out one’s hand to get one’s bearings is considered “assault”). There was no need to establish physical control. They were not fleeing from arrest. (Indeed, how could they when they were trapped in orange police netting?) They were not emotionally disturbed persons. They were not dangerous animals who were going to injure anybody.

In looking at the Patrol Guide, we learn that the police are obligated to arrest the person who is pepper sprayed and charge them with a crime. Yet we see that the police do not make any moves towards the three women. They are left to scream, kneeled in the streets and in pain. They are not criminals. But they are clearly examples of what befalls “bad” citizens.

The Patrol Guide specifically orders the uniformed officer not to use pepper spray on “subjects who passively resist (e.g., going limp, offering no active physical resistance).” But the white shirted policeman has clearly ignored this procedure. In the same note, the uniformed officer is instructed to “avoid using O.C. spray in small contained areas such as automobiles and closets.” It is hard to determine with all the pandemonium going on in the video, but the orange netting erected by the police may very well fall into the scope of “small contained area.”

Patrol Guide procedures also request Emergency Medical Services “once the situation is under control.” But we see these women screaming and no apparent EMS members in the frame. Did the NYPD fulfill this option? Probably not. Because the women were left in the contaminated area to scream. They were not relocated to fresh air, contrary to another Patrol Guide mandate: “Remove the subject from the contaminated area and expose to fresh air while awaiting the arrival of EMS, or transportation to hospital/stationhouse if tactically feasible.”

Given the distance of the officers from the victims, it’s likely that none of the officers asked the women if they were wearing contact lenses. Nor were the women placed in a sitting position to promote free breathing. They were left to fall to the ground and suffer. The Patrol Guide also specifies that officers should provide a source of water and flush the contaminated skin of those who are pepper-spayed. Even if we give the NYPD the benefit of the doubt, and accept that the situation was an anarchic one and that it was hard to enforce these guidelines, one would think that this flushing proviso would be followed to the letter — if not as an enforced code, then at least as a basic quality of humanism that requires no explanation. But for a good twenty seconds, the women are left to scream and to experience pain, with one woman stretching her arms in an effort to find some relief for her anguish. The women who are not sprayed appear to want to help her, but, trapped inside the orange netting, they cannot offer water.

The NYPD’s conduct does not fall into the five general categories of pepper spray use. It fails to adhere to the NYPD’s own guidelines. And since the NYPD cannot own up to its inhumane behavior, despite repeat inquiries, it suggests very highly that the police are not especially committed to Fidelis ad Mortem — especially that vital faith in innocent bystanders whose only crime was to ask what was happening to fellow human beings.

Here is P.G. 212-95 reproduced in its entirety:

P.G. 212-95 Use Of Pepper Spray Devices

Date Effective: 01-01-00

PURPOSE

To inform uniformed members of the service of circumstances under which pepper spray
may be intentionally discharged and to record instances where pepper spray has been
discharged, intentionally or accidentally.

SCOPE

Use of Oleoresin Capsicum (O.C.) pepper spray constitutes physical force under the New
York State Penal Law. Use of pepper spray is proper when used in accordance with
Article 35 of the Penal Law and Department procedures. O.C. pepper spray may be used
when a member reasonably believes it is necessary to effect an arrest of a resisting
suspect, for self-defense or defense of another from unlawful force, or to take a
resisting emotionally disturbed person into custody. In many cases, pepper spray will
reduce or eliminate the need for substantial physical force to effect an arrest or
gain custody. It will often reduce the potential for injuries to members and suspects
that may result from physical restraint and it should be regarded as a possible
alternative to such force and restraint, where practical. Pepper spray shall not be
used in situations that do not require the use of physical force. O.C. pepper spray
may be used in arrest or custodial restraint situations where physical presence and/or
verbal commands have not been, or would not be, effective in overcoming physical
resistance.

PROCEDURE

When necessary to use pepper spray device:

UNIFORMED MEMBER OF THE SERVICE

1. Hold pepper spray in an upright position, aim and discharge pepper spray into a
subject’s eyes for maximum effectiveness, using two (2) one second bursts, at a
minimum distance of three (3) feet, and only in situations when the uniformed member
of the service reasonably believes that it is necessary to:

a. Protect self, or another from unlawful use of force (e.g., assault)

b. Effect an arrest, or establish physical control of a subject resisting arrest

c. Establish physical control of a subject attempting to flee from arrest or custody

d. Establish physical control of an emotionally disturbed person (EDP)

e. Control a dangerous animal, by deterring an attack, to prevent injury to persons
or animals present.

2. Effect arrest of criminal suspect against who pepper spray was used and charge with
crime which initiated use of the pepper spray.

a. Add resisting arrest charge, when appropriate

b. P.G. 210-13, “Release Of Prisoners – General Procedure” will be complied with if
it is determined that arrested person did not commit the crime or that no crime was
committed.

c. P.G. 216-05, “Mentally Ill Or Emotionally Disturbed Persons,” will be complied
with, when appropriate.

NOTE: Do not use pepper spray on subjects who passively resist (e.g., going limp,
offering no active physical resistance). If possible, avoid using pepper spray on
persons who appear to be in frail health, young children, women believed to be
pregnant, or persons with known respiratory conditions. Avoid discharging pepper
spray indiscriminately over a large area for disorder control. (Members who are
specifically trained in the use of pepper spray for disorder control may use pepper
spray in accordance with their training, and within Department guidelines, and as
authorized by supervisors.). In addition, avoid using O.C. spray in small contained
areas such as automobiles and closets.

3. Request response of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) once the situation is under
control.

a. Advise person sprayed that EMS is responding.

4. Remove the subject from the contaminated area and expose to fresh air while
awaiting the arrival of EMS, or transportation to hospital/stationhouse if tactically
feasible.

a. Determine whether the person sprayed is wearing contact lenses. (It is strongly
recommended that contact lenses be removed as soon as possible after exposure to O.C.
spray.)

5. Position subject on his/her side or in a sitting position to promote free
breathing.

a. The subject should never be maintained or transported in a face down position.

b. Do not sit, stand, or kneel on subject’s chest or back.

6. Provide assistance to subject as follows:

a. When consistent with member’s safety, and provided a source of water is readily
available, the uniformed member should flush the contaminated skin area of a subject
with profuse amounts of water.

b. Repeat flushing at short intervals, if necessary, until symptoms of distress
subside.

c. Continue flushing the contaminated skin of the subject in custody, at the
stationhouse as needed.

d. Commence the flushing of a subject’s contaminated skin upon arrival at the
stationhouse, if this has not already been done.

NOTE: Do not rub or touch skin of contaminated person, as the initial effect of
pepper spray does not dissipate for 15 – 20 minutes. Also, do not use salves, creams,
ointments, commercial eye washes or bandages. The desk officer will ensure that all
prisoners who have been sprayed with pepper spray receive appropriate first aid, if
needed, upon arrival at the stationhouse. Desk officers are also responsible for
ensuring that prisoners who have been sprayed with pepper spray are properly observed
throughout the arrest process, and that they receive prompt medical attention if they
need or request it. A Command Log entry will be made stating whether the prisoner has
had his/her skin flushed with water, been examined by EMS, or been transported to the
hospital.

7. Transport prisoner immediately to the emergency room of the nearest hospital if
he/she is demonstrating difficulty breathing, or exhibiting signs of severe stress,
hyperventilation etc.

a. Windows of transport vehicle should be kept open

b. Members who come in contact with persons who have been exposed to pepper spray
must thoroughly wash their hands afterward and avoid having any contaminated clothing
make contact with their face

c. Advise hospital staff that pepper spray has been used on prisoner.

8. Prepare ON LINE BOOKING SYSTEM ARREST WORKSHEET (PD 244-159) and MEDICAL TREATMENT
OF PRISONER (PD 244-150) in arrest situations.

9. Complete the AIDED REPORT WORKSHEET (PD 304-152b) in non-arrest situations, e.g.
EDP, and:

a. Check box “O.C. Spray Used”

b. Enter rank, name, and tax registry number, of each MOS who discharged spray in
the “Details” caption

c. List the time, doctor’s name, and diagnosis under “Details” caption, when
applicable.

COMMANDING OFFICER, M.I.S.D.

10. Provide a quarterly printout of all arrest and aided incidents where pepper spray
was discharged to the commanding officer, Firearms and Tactics Section.

COMMANDING OFFICER, FIREARMS AND TACTICS SECTION

11. Analyze situations where O.C. spray was employed to evaluate its effectiveness.
a. As appropriate, modify existing training/tactics relative to the use of pepper
spray.

ADDITIONAL DATA

The only pepper spray authorized for use is the type issued to all uniformed members
through the Firearms and Tactics Section.

In order to maintain the effectiveness of the spray, it is recommended that the device
be shaken at the start of each tour. Carrying the pepper spray device during normal
patrol duty should be sufficient to keep the solution thoroughly mixed.

Pepper spray will not automatically stop all subjects, and even when it does
incapacitate, the effects are temporary. Members should therefore be ready to use
other appropriate force options and tactics.

When performing duty in uniform, the pepper spray shall be carried in its holster
attached to the non-shooting side of the gun belt. When performing enforcement duty
in civilian clothes the pepper spray must be carried, in the holster attached either
to a belt or in another appropriate manner. Undercover members may opt not to carry
the pepper spray. Members of the service may carry the pepper spray device during off
duty hours.

UPDATE: The Village Voice talks with Chelsea Elliott, one of the protesters: “We lay on the ground like little worms. One of the other girls was a medic, and was able to pour milk in her eyes. The cops left. They moved the net. All I know from what happened afterward, I watched on YouTube. For like 15 minutes, I couldn’t see; I couldn’t breathe at first. It was so out of the ordinary and unprovoked. Our medical group poured milk into my eyes for like 10 minutes, and apple cider vinegar on my face.”

UPDATE 2: The NYPD officer who pepper sprayed the protesters has been identified as Anthony Bologna. A Downtown Express profile of Bologna reveals that he became a police officer late in life and there is this telling quote: “You read in the papers about cops doing things that you can’t believe because you think everybody’s like you. But a department this large can’t really be completely free of it. If you don’t find anything wrong, you’re in real trouble because you’re not looking.” I am also investigating this article from 2001, which suggests the possibility that Anthony Bolgona attacked another protester at a Mayday NYC protest in 2001.

UPDATE 3: Jeanne Mansfield, “Why I Was Maced at the Wall Street Protests.”

UPDATE 4: The Guardian reports that Anthony Bologna may have committed civil rights abuses during the 2004 demonstrations at the Republican National Convention.