the head of the march as it arrived at 34th Street, confronted by the NYPD
The NYPD: Incompetent, malicious, following orders, or all three?
We had to go to Times Square yesterday afternoon to be a part of Occupy Wall Street's assembly on the October 15th "Global Day Of Action", but we were unable to start all the way downtown as many others did. As it happened, we arrived at 6th Avenue and 34th Street a few minutes before the vanguard of what I believe was the main march coming from the south.
We joined the throng, and along with thousands of other people of all ages and stations, snaked our way along some narrow, treacherous sidewalks, ending up on the west side of the block of Broadway between 42nd and 43rd Streets. The passage was impeded, first by the metal police barriers whose feet splayed into the path of feet temporarily neglected by eyes being used to avoid bumping into people, but also by sidewalk furniture of every kind, construction canopies, concrete repair areas, and hundreds of surprised tourists and other pedestrians.
In spite of our numbers we were forcibly squeezed into spaces designated by metal barriers and lines of moving police scooters on either side of the vehicle roadway. This was the order of our Constitutionally-renegade constabulary, ever heedless of the rights of assembly and speech, yet pathologically-obsessed with defending the rights of New York's privileged motor vehicle traffic.
I've been in both "permitted" and "un-permitted" marches in New York City for 25 years, and I don't recall any where we were forced to stay on the sidewalk once large numbers had been massed.
I find it embarrassing both as an American, a New Yorker, and a rights activist to report that the march was confined to sidewalks for its entire length, but that was only the beginning: The confinement continued even after the marchers had reached (or tried to reach) their destination, Times Square itself. Everyone was pressed behind barricades or forced into pens set up at the discretion of units of the NYPD - to protect themselves from us, but also to demonstrate that they could control our ability to assemble in civil society as effectively as they could control our movements.
Unfortunately the NYPD's jealous possession of another instrument for controlling both speech and assembly has escaped the notice of too many of those whose rights they routinely trample. The human microphone is a wondrous thing, but it had to be invented because in New York the police, in addition to their monopoly of the freedom of assembly, have a monopoly on the freedom of expression represented by the electric megaphone and the microphone.
Even while walking up Broadway we were in touch through Twitter with some of those who were closer to Times Square itself and what we were hearing didn't reassure us that we would be safe from police incompetence, rage, or their moves to deliberately provoke violence. That, plus the police brutality we've seen directed toward Occupy Wall Street over the past month, kept up from trying to move further north, or in fact remain standing in any place where we might not be able to easily escape.
These images are therefore pretty unexciting, but they may provide a little context for what happened on and around 46th Street yesterday evening.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I could join a protest and not fear I would be arrested, unless it was my intention to be arrested. In those days I could and would encourage anyone I knew to do the same, also with the totally reasonable expectation they would not be arrested - and certainly not be badly beaten. But today's NYPD is a very vicious agency. It's also a loose cannon; there is absolutely no way to predict what the cops will do at any moment.
We've also seen that at every level they are safe from being held accountable, even for the most horrible offense.
But with particular respect to what they are doing vis-à-vis this movement, we have to remember that cops take orders; More than ever before we should be asking who's giving those orders.