Reportedly more than 200 people were arrested when the New York Police Department evicted Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park. I was one of them.
For those who don't know, OWS is a protest in the Big Apple that has sparked a global movement opposed to wealth inequality and corporate control of government. After camping in the financial district for almost two months, protestors were forcibly removed in the early morning of Nov. 15.
At around 1 a.m., hundreds of police dressed in riot gear surrounded the area. One officer spoke through a bullhorn.
Jon Hochschartner stands outside Zuccotti Park on Nov. 11, a few days prior to the eviction.
(Photo — Jaime Medrano Jr.)
"If you refuse to immediately remove your property from the park or refuse to leave the park, you will be subject to arrest," he said.
Later in a press conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the 12th-richest person in the country, said he ordered the eviction because the park represented a "health and fire-safety hazard to the protestors and the surrounding community."
Bloomberg's concern over the health implications caused by a lack of cleanliness in the park was laughable in that Zuccotti was no dirtier than the average New York City street. Crowding may have been dangerous in an emergency situation, but this problem could have been easily remedied by opening up a dialogue with the protestors. The truth was the eviction was politically motivated, a transparent attempt to repress a growing movement for change.
Threats of arrest caused some panic. Everyone expected the police to use the kind of overwhelming, violent force recently used against Occupy Oakland. In his haste, one man accidentally triggered a camp fire extinguisher, causing those around him to believe the NYPD had deployed tear gas. Protestors overturned tables and tents to form barricades. They ripped apart clothes, making bandanas to protect against chemical agents. They stuffed their ears with shredded napkins in anticipation of the police's use of the sound cannon parked across the street. Others packed up their gear and left.
Those who stayed gathered at the center of the camp, in the kitchen. Approximately six people locked themselves together with heavy bike locks around their necks. Perhaps 100 people surrounded them, sitting down and locking arms. They shared cigarettes and gallows humor as the police dismantled the surrounding structures, slowly making their way toward the kitchen.
Eventually the NYPD began pulling people away from the sitting crowd one by one. At the last moment, when they came to me, I unlocked arms with the man beside me, and instead gripped his leg, believing it would provide a stronger hold. The police grabbed my feet and pulled me away from the kitchen, dragging the man I was holding along with them. They were unsuccessful in disconnecting us, so they began to slap my wrists and legs with batons. I was struck in the groin with what felt like a kick. I quickly lost my hold, and an officer pinned my hand to the ground with his boot.
My backpack was cut from my body. My hands were bound behind me with plastic cuffs before I was pulled to my feet. An officer picked up my glasses, which had been broken during the skirmish, and put them on my face. I was led to the back of a police van.
It was around 3:30 a.m., and I would be in custody for approximately the next 40 hours. Though 1 Police Plaza, the NYPD headquarters where many protestors were taken, is only a short distance away from the park, it seemed we were inside the van for close to an hour. This was due to the large number of protestors being processed outside. When the van was not being driven, which was most of the time we were inside the vehicle, there was no air conditioning.
Tightly packed with ten men dressed for winter, the van quickly became unbearably hot. It felt like the kind of heat that kills pets left in unattended cars in the summer. Sweating profusely, we yelled at the police outside to open the window to allow for ventilation, but they ignored us. One of the more flexible protestors managed to step over his cuffed hands, bringing them to his front. After having done so, he did the best he could to unzip our jackets and untie the bandanas from our necks.
Eventually we were brought into the station and processed. Charged with trespassing, obstructing governmental administration and disorderly conduct, I was put in a cell with approximately 40 other protestors. By chanting and pounding on the walls, we acquired food and medical attention.
Later that day, we were transferred to Central Booking. It's the kind of place that makes one interested in prison reform. Graffiti painted with what appeared to be fecal matter stained the walls. The lights were on all night. Besides a limited number of benches, there was no place to sleep but the floor. Breakfast was served at 1 a.m., and we were woken an hour later so the cell could be mopped.
The next day, Nov. 16, dragged on slowly. One by one, we met with representatives from the National Lawyers Guild. As I understand it, I accepted a plea bargain that knocked my charges down simply to disorderly conduct. Other protestors decided to fight their charges, but I was unsure if I'd have money or time to return to the city for a number of court dates. I was ordered to pay a $120 fine and was released at approximately 8 p.m.
Ultimately, I think Bloomberg will regret ordering the eviction from Zuccotti Park. When one looks back on the Occupy movement nationally, police repression has only provided more fuel for the cause.
Supporters multiplied in the aftermath of Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna's pepper spraying of activists, the arrest of more than 700 marchers on the Brooklyn Bridge and the hospitalization of protesting Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen. The eviction from Zuccotti Park will only help grow this movement.
Jon Hochschartner lives in Lake Placid.