From the inside, the throng of “Occupy Wall Street” protesters marching through Lower Manhattan on Saturday felt chaotic. The crush of people, more than 2,500 in all, flowed north from their camp in Zuccotti Park towards the Brooklyn Bridge, chanting slogans that ebbed and flowed through the crowd. Drums echoed off the tall buildings that form a deep canyon along narrow streets.
But as tumultuous as it felt inside the group, from the outside, the protest looked orderly and purposeful as it moved smoothly behind a wide banner that read: “Occupy Everything.” Demonstrator Christine Velez held a sign that cleverly poked fun at both leading Republican presidential contenders: “I Won’t Believe a Corporation Is a Person Until Texas Hangs One,” her sign said. It summed up the feelings of the movement, anchored by a stalwart 300 or so protesters who have been living in the park for 14 days, protesting income inequality and corporate greed, with Wall Street as the central villain.
Dozens of police officers on small motorcycles formed a long line that kept the protesters on the sidewalk and out of the traffic, a sign that the NYPD has learned from last week’s march to Union Square where videos exploded on the web of a police commander spraying mace in the face of a woman behind a crowd enclosure pen. The plan, on this rainy day, was to march over the Brooklyn Bridge. Protest organizers had instructed everyone at the outset not to instigate conflict with police or pedestrians with physical violence.
The crowd wound its way toward the bridge, without incident, through streets crowded with shoppers and tourists, past City Hall without breaking stride. But when they reached the bridge, the first group made their way to the upper pedestrian walkway. There was a break in the ranks, however, and the second group, of somewhere between 500 and 1,000 people, began to walk up the Brooklyn-bound roadway where they were sure to snarl traffic. Police later said that an officer yelled into a bullhorn for the protesters to turn around. The crowd, apparently oblivious, erupted into cheers when they hit the roadway, chanting, “Who owns this bridge? We do!”
(PHOTOS: Marchers arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge)
Meanwhile, farther across the bridge, dozens of police officers began to assemble. One yelled to his commander, “Here?” pointing to a spot about 100 yards from the tower on the Manhattan side. About 30 police officers made a human line, three deep, while others behind them unfurled an orange net that stretched across the road’s three lanes.
When the protesters reached the line of police officers, many linked arms and prepared to stand their ground. A white shirted police commander yelled via bullhorn that the marchers would be arrested for disorderly conduct. There was short pause as both sides held steady, then one officer reached into the crowd to pull a mask from one of the marcher’s faces. The NYPD’s chief of the department, Joseph Esposito, grabbed the officer by the back of the belt and hauled him backwards. But moments later, another policeman plunged into the crowd and the standoff disintegrated into chaos.
For the next minute or so, police took the marchers who were at the front and restrained them with plastic flex wrist cuffs secured behind their backs. After the first dozen or so arrests, many of the marchers sat down or got on their knees, and tensions calmed once more. But the arrests continued. First by ones and twos, and then a half dozen at a time, police arrested every protester who marched on the roadway. Some yelled their names to legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild. Two marchers who looked impossibly young to be at a protest, when asked their age yelled that they were 15.
Up the roadway, police seated the protesters against the sides of the road and began to take their information. Half an hour after the first arrest, two city buses backed up to augment the paddy wagons. More than 700 people were arrested according to the NYPD; an officer who said he has worked large crowds many times said he would put that number closer to 1,000. While the exact numbers weren’t clear, it took more than two and a half hours to flex cuff the entire crowd and haul them all away.
(PHOTOS: Occupy Wall Street)
Around 7pm, as a cold rain fell steadily on the bridge, police loaded the last of the last of the marchers into a half-empty city bus. Signs and flyers littered the roadway, including the one from Christine Velez poking fun at Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. Back at Zuccotti Park, the mood was a mixture of ebullience and concern. Legal observers worked their cell phones, trying to track down those arrested. Even with several hundred of their compatriots on their way to various police precincts, more than a thousand people cheered on a drum circle, debated ideas and tried to dry off from the cold rain. One woman at the Broadway entrance held a sign, quoting poet Gil Scott Heron that read, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Perhaps not, but the people who came to the park two weeks ago hope that it will continue to grow as it enters week three.