OCCUPY WALL STREET—December 17, 2011
“Hey, Matt. You’re on.”
Matt put a wint-o-green lifesaver in his mouth and walked in front of the gathered crowd at Duarte Square in lower Manhattan. After being evicted from Zuccotti Park, the occupiers searched for a new place for their encampment. The empty lot next to Duarte Square seemed perfect.
“Mic check,” Matt said. “Mic check,” the people around him echoed. He chewed up the lifesaver and spoke.
“Today is our three-month anniversary (echo). We’re here to take back this unused space (echo). We claim this empty lot for the people (echo). This is a global movement (echo). In thousands of cities around the world (echo) people are claiming spaces for sanctuary and free speech (echo).”
The people marched around the block, hundreds of them—down Sixth Avenue, left onto Watts Street, left on Varick Street and on to Grand Avenue. Then the faith leaders, artists, musicians, lawyers, students, teachers, the unemployed, the workers, comrades stood in front of the empty lot owned by Trinity Church, the third largest real estate holder in New York City. The occupiers hoped, without hoping, they would be sympathetic.
The six-foot high chain link fence that surrounded the lot didn’t deter the protesters. A ladder appeared from behind a yellow banner that said “Liberate Space.” An Episcopal Bishop was the first to climb the ladder and scale the fence, occupying the empty lot. Then one by one hundreds went over.
Matt saw fear in the eyes of the police officers on the sidewalk—a stash of plastic zip ties hanging from each belt. The cops hungered for arrests. The passion of the occupiers overpowered the cops who threatened, ordered, and pushed. Matt climbed up the ladder.
Inside, the arrests started. Outside on the sidewalk, occupiers chanted. Police begged. “Move back. Please move back. Do me a favor and move back.” People in the front were unwilling to do the cops a favor. More police moved in wearing riot gear, night sticks pounding in their hands.
Matt heard one man say to the police, “There’s nothing to be proud of here. These are American citizens. I did two tours in Nam and this is not a proud moment for you.” Matt smiled and thought of his mom and dad.
The police took down the ladder while occupiers pulled on the fence, uprooting it, allowing people to get out or in. A police officer climbed up on the fence and pushed occupiers away with his foot. People inside the fence continued to get arrested. “Those are medics,” someone yelled from outside. “You can’t arrest the medics.” The police did anyway.
“Does anyone here need medical attention (echo)? Raise your hand (echo). “
Matt ran to the uplifted fence and scooted out of the lot. He turned and saw the police dragging someone by the leg across the lot.
The police maintained their line in front of the fence. Inside, those arrested sat, cuffed behind the back, waiting for transport. Outside, the occupiers moved back and forth in front of the police, cajoling, mocking, photographing, videotaping. The police stood solid, stone solid.
“Mic check (echo). General Assembly in ten minutes (echo) to talk about what’s happening here (echo).” Slowly occupiers wandered back to Duarte Square to regroup, eat, rest, chant.
As the sun was setting, the protesters came back to life with a wave of anticipation, like a hive disturbed, awoken. Out of nowhere, the cry spread through the crowd, “March. March. March.”
Matt looked over at his friends. “We’re not done today.” The crowd left Duarte Square and moved through the streets towards Times Square accompanied by a constant drumbeat and police on scooters. “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho. Wall Street Greed Has Got To Go.” Walking, then running, diverting, turning left, dashing through cars, down the street, on the sidewalk, “We are the 99%.”
The police couldn’t control the crowd. You can’t control that which won’t be controlled. “Down this street,” someone called. Matt turned left, right again, evading the police barricades. The cops didn’t know which way marchers were going.
Then the police began their systematic arrest of identified marchers. With each arrest, with each marcher grabbed from the crowd, tossed to the ground, surrounded, kneed and cuffed, the crowd yelled, “Shame, shame, shame. The whole world is watching. You’re not getting away with this.” Even with cameras on every arrest, the cops got away with it.
“Back up. Get off the street,” an officer said.
“What are you gonna do? Hit me?” Matt heard a protester say back. “We’re not afraid.”
“Back up. Back up,” the officer said.
“I’m on the sidewalk. You can’t get me for walking on the sidewalk.”
They did. An officer threw the marcher to the ground. Six officers surrounded him, landed on him, cuffed him, too hard, too tight. “What’s your name?” his comrades called to him. “Tell us your name.”
The marchers ran into the street, stopped cars that honked back in support, weaved through the traffic as they chanted, “Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.”
“We are unstoppable. Another world is possible.”
As Matt walked down the sidewalk, he saw a man in a dark shirt point at him. Matt turned and headed the other way, but three cops stood behind him. He turned to the side. Matt was blocked. The man in the dark shirt grabbed him and threw him to the ground. Matt struggled to get away. The man said nothing. He wasn’t even in uniform. He didn’t say, “You’re under arrest.” He didn’t say, “I’m a cop.” The man said nothing. Matt struggled more. And then four more cops were on him. “Our streets,” Matt said.
The police were controlled by fear and their own sense of power. Why did they choose who they chose to arrest? Out of the hundreds running in the streets, why Matt? Why did they pick him out of the crowd? Maybe they’d seen him before, at Zuccotti Park chained to his friends, in the lot across from Duarte Square. Maybe because he was loud. Maybe it was that at six foot two he stood above the crowd. Maybe it was the black hoodie covering his long dreadlocks.
“We’ve got ya covered, Matt. We got six cameras on you, dude,” Matt heard someone say.
“Stop resisting,” the police officer said.
“How can he be resisting with five cops on him?” someone from the crowd said.
One cop pushed Matt’s head into the ground. Matt could feel the concrete dig into his skin, the skin pull away. Another cop sat on Matt’s back and rammed his knee into his kidneys once, twice, three times. A third pulled Matt’s arms back and put on the zip ties. They pulled off the hoodie and jerked Matt’s head up by his dreadlocks, pulled the black bandana off his face, grabbed him under the arms and dragged him to the waiting police car. Matt heard his comrades yelling, “Shame. Shame. He didn’t do anything.”
As they put him in the car, Matt looked at the cop. “Just who the fuck are you protecting?”
They drove Matt to the station to book him. Before they took his belongings he texted his mom and dad. “Arrested.”
That night in jail, Matt and his comrades banged on the walls, chanting in solidarity. They scratched D17 OWS 2011 into the wall of the jail cell so others would know they were there.
They released Matt after thirty-six hours. He had open sores on his face from the concrete. His hands were numb from the cuffs. They gave Matt his plastic bag of possessions—a smashed cell phone that wasn’t smashed when they’d taken it from him, a key ring with his car keys missing that weren’t missing when they’d taken it from him, and his black bandana.
He never saw the text his mom and dad sent back. “We love you and support you.”