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What a Difference a Day Makes: Life on the Front Lines of Occupy Federal Hall

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Charlie Grapski     Permalink
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View Ratings | Rate It Headlined to H2 4/22/12

By the end of Thursday's business Wall Street actually appeared to be smiling as a carnival feeling descended with guitars and a sax player ringing out songs such as "America The Beautiful," the Occupiers in numbers far exceeding twenty-five spread throughout the street and sidewalks mingling with traders and tourists, and a conga line danced carrying the long yellow banner on a tour around the public spaces outside of the Stock Exchange.  

But Friday was different.   The significantly elevated police presence seemed displeased at the early morning "shenanigans" of the Occupiers and by noon were erecting not just one additional barricade but two -- this time, however, to limit the flow and access of members of the public on the streets, significantly limiting their ability to stand and engage those on Federal Hall's steps.   Penned in like cattle being led to the slaughter the pace and flow of pedestrian traffic was significantly elevated, while at the same time their liberty of movement was substantially hampered.

In contrast to previous days individuals felt uncomfortable stopping, while those who did stop to snap a portrait or engage in conversations found themselves bunched up and impeding the flow of traffic.   With Wall Street always already permanently closed to vehicular traffic this served no visible purpose other than to remove the majority of the street from access to members of the general public.   The Street's center was vacant or alternatively, and over time in greater proportion, filled with a long line of multiple police vans with numbers of armed officers standing at the ready.   It was as if an army were preparing for a siege on an enemy encampment.

It was readily apparent from the start that this tactic would in fact accomplish, even if not actually by design, scenarios where the officers would be given the appearance of "justification" for intervening and instructing the individuals in the gathered groups to instead "move along" and stop their engagement and discussions with the denizens of "the Zoo" or what also obtained the playful moniker of "OccuZoo."   

With the NYPD in dark blue, its senior officers in their notorious "White Shirts," lined up and gathered at the center of the street, others in either the brown of Park Rangers or the light blue of Federal Park Police stationed themselves around the perimeter of the "Free Speech Zone."   The center of American capitalism took on an appearance more like that of a demilitarized zone precariously situated between two hostile nations.

Eventually, as could also have been predicted from the start, individual police officers took umbrage with those who did not as fully or quickly comply with their orders to disperse as they wished.   They manhandled several individuals without necessarily distinguishing between those deemed protesters from others more "legitimately" present on this street on any given day.  

By three o'clock tensions were running high and one could sense that arrests were imminent.   It was just then that for what appeared no apparent reason a number of armed SWAT members, garbed entirely in non-reflective black gear, along with several Counterterrorism Unit officers, charged one individual and forcefully rushed him up the stairs, to the left of the statue of Washington where the Occupiers were not permitted, and began struggling with him to physically conduct a search.  

It appeared the day's first arrest had taken place when suddenly to everyone's surprise he was released and walked back down the steps.   "What was the charge?" one bystander called out.   "They accused me of rolling a joint," said the victim, who during what appears an unlawful search and seizure, was found to be without any drugs or paraphernalia.   As he wound his way back into the anonymity of the gathering crowd, now being joined by the "marchers" concluding their "capture the flag" challenge, several people wondered whether the NYPD were making assumptions based on the coincidence that the date was April 20th, or "4:20" an informally recognized "holiday" making reference to a time of day generally associated with smoking marijuana and even coming to serve itself as yet another synonym for the vilified weed.

The reasonable resolution of that affair, however, would not fit a description of what was shortly to follow.  

As the crowd grew, and the room to move grew ever more stifling, the NYPD officers stationed at the center of the street became more impatient and began more forcefully to engage with those walking past.   As a group appeared to pause, not necessarily to stop for any particular reason beyond having no particular place to go and little room to maneuver, several officers charged in and forced a few individuals violently to the ground.   Now the arrests had truly begun in what appeared to be an entirely arbitrary fashion.   This action incensed the crowd -- Occupiers and "other" pedestrians alike -- and shouts and chants began to ring out.   The police activity grew in scope and became more frantic.  

It was then that several participants in Occupy Wall Street's "Spring Training" March, yards away from those who occupied the steps, lay down on the sidewalk -- without actually blocking anyone's movement or access -- and held signs above their heads in a clear act of Civil Disobedience.   A large number of officers, far more than necessary, moved in to affect the arrests.   Again these actions were met with complaints of unnecessary and unwarranted brutality from those aligned with the Occupy movement and even many unconnected bystanders.  

Tensions were now running extremely high as the remaining portion of the hyper-inflated and over-armed force moved in to cordon off all the remaining pedestrians.   Those occupying Federal Hall's steps were ironically left untouched in this moment of chaos and became substantially isolated from the billowing throngs filling the street -- apparently secured and surrounded by the blue-shirted Federal officers, a few of whom were strategically perched on the building above and behind them, facing the street in what appeared almost as a stand-off between the City's uniformed officers and the Nation's.   The Park Police, throughout this turbulent period, remained at their stations and stood straight and calm steadying their gaze down onto the frantic activities on the street below.

Drums began pounding, wind instruments were blowing, and guitars strumming as people throughout the street chanted and sang in protest of the police action.   It appeared a large number of arrests would now emerge from this dual agency face-off and a group of about twenty protesters, isolated in the middle of the street, danced frenetically while pushing up against the barricades.   A black flag with the single word "Occupy" in white waved over their heads as they moved rhythmically to the beat of the chanting and drumming.  

This matter remained as tense as such for what seemed an eternity with no movement one way or the other. Wall Street had been shut down.   Not by protesters -- but by the police.   Tensions remained high throughout the stand-off, several times NYPD officers appeared ready to take action to evict or arrest those constituting the Occupy 25 of the moment stationed and standing their ground on the steps.

Each time the NYPD appeared ready to move in, however, a ranking member of the Park Police would walk up to the gathered officers apparently engaged in the planning with a piece of paper in his hand.   The paper's function was to communicate to the members of the City's force that the Occupiers in fact had a right to be there, guaranteed by the First Amendment, recognized by the Park Service, and that the Federal officials were there to protect that right.   New York's finest, it effectively pointed out, had no authority on the Federal property.

Witnessing all of this, once again, were the livestreamers accompanied by their viewers and chatters from across the country and around the world.   Occupiedair has seen regular viewers from Florida, to Oklahoma, to California and the Pacific Northwest and even Hawaii.   They have also had participants join in from places such as Germany, Sweden, and Brazil.   This is only accurate way to describe what in tradition media would be simply the "viewer" or mere receiver of information.   This is by contrast a fully interactive medium for the user.

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