Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Police: 73 detained after protesters marking 6 months of Occupy movement refuse to leave park

A closed Zuccotti Park
By Cristian Salazar, Associated Press | March 18, 2012

NEW YORK -- Protesters marking the six-month mark since the start of
the Occupy movement were taken into custody by police officers who poured
into the park after warning those who had gathered there that it was

Police said 73 people were detained. It was unclear how many were still in
custody Sunday afternoon.

Some demonstrators had locked arms and sat down in the middle of Zuccotti
Park near Wall Street after police announced on a bullhorn at around 11:30
p.m. Saturday that the park was closed. Officers then entered the park,
forcing out most of the crowd and surrounding a small group that stayed
behind. Police formed a human ring around the park to keep protesters out.

An unused public transit bus was brought in to cart away about a dozen
demonstrators in plastic handcuffs. One female under arrest had difficulty
breathing and was taken away in an ambulance to be treated.

For hours, the demonstrators had been chanting and holding impromptu
meetings in the park to celebrate the anniversary of the movement that has
brought attention to economic inequality, as police mainly kept their

But New York Police Det. Brian Sessa said the tipping point came when the
protesters started breaking the park rules.

"They set up tents. They had sleeping bags," he said. Electrical boxes
also were tampered with and there was evidence of graffiti.

Sessa said Brookfield Properties, the park owner, sent in security to
advise the protesters to stop pitching tents and to leave the park. The
protesters, in turn, became agitated with them. The company then asked the
police to help them clear out the park, the detective said.

"Most of the people, they left the park," Sessa said. "People who refused
to leave and were staying were arrested."

Many protesters shouted and officers took out their batons after a
demonstrator threw a glass bottle at the bus that police were using to
detain protesters.

Sandra Nurse, a member of Occupy's direct action working group, said
police treated demonstrators roughly and made arbitrary arrests. She
disputed the police assertion that demonstrators had broken park rules by
putting up tents or getting out sleeping bags.

"I didn't see any sleeping bags," she said. "There was a banner hung
between two trees and a tarp thrown over it ... It wasn't a tent. It was
an erect thing, if that's what you want to call it."

Earlier in the day, with the city's attention focused on the huge St.
Patrick's Day parade many blocks uptown, the Occupy rally at Zuccotti drew
hundreds of people.

Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, who had given a speech at a nearby
university, also made an appearance at the park, milling around with

With the barricades that once blocked them from Wall Street now removed,
the protesters streamed down the sidewalk and covered the steps of the
Federal Hall National Memorial. There, steps from the New York Stock
Exchange and standing at the feet of a statue of George Washington, they
danced and chanted, "We are unstoppable."

As always, the protesters focused on a variety of concerns, but for Tom
Hagan, his sights were on the giants of finance.

"Wall Street did some terrible things, especially Goldman Sachs, but all
of them. Everyone from the banks to the rating agencies, they all knew
they were doing wrong. ... But they did it anyway. Because the money was
too big," he said.

Dressed in an outfit that might have been more appropriate for the St.
Patrick's Day parade, the 61-year-old salesman wore a green shamrock cap
and carried a sign asking for saintly intervention: "St. Patrick: Drive
the snakes out of Wall Street."

Stacy Hessler held up a cardboard sign that read, "Spring is coming," a
reference, she said, both to the Arab Spring and to the warm weather that
is returning to New York City. She said she believes the nicer weather
will bring the crowds back to Occupy protests, where numbers have dwindled
in recent months since the group's encampment was ousted from Zuccotti
Park by authorities in November.

But now, "more and more people are coming out," said the 39-year-old, who
left her home in Florida in October to join the Manhattan protesters and
stayed through much of the winter. "The next couple of months, things are
going to start to grow, like the flowers."

Some have questioned whether the group can regain its momentum. This
month, the finance accounting group in New York City reported that just
about $119,000 remained in Occupy's bank account — the equivalent of about
two weeks' worth of expenses.

But Hessler said the group has remained strong, and she pronounced herself
satisfied with what the Occupy protesters have accomplished over the last
half year.

"It's changed the language," she said. "It's brought out a lot of issues
that people are talking about. ... And that's the start of change."

Associated Press writer Samantha Gross contributed to this report.

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