Earlier today, police arrested protesters, including several Columbia students, at the Occupy Wall Street demonstration. Some reports say 60 arrests were made, but Columbians at the scene tell us the arrest count has reached 96. Bwog has learned that two seniors are still detained. According to Gothamist, tensions with NYPD escalated today as about 1,000 protestors gathered and marched towards Union Square.
A self-proclaimed leaderless resistance movement, Occupy Wall Street aims claims to represent the “99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and and corruption of the 1%”. The protests are based on Wall St to target what they see as the American financial system’s favoritism of the rich at the expense of others. There has been criticism of the protestors’ lack of coherence and articulation of specific aims. The Times called it a ” noble but fractured and airy movement of rightly frustrated young people.” Naturally, they’ve taken to twitter, and adopted the hashtag #occupywallstreet as a sort of unofficial slogan. They’re tweeting away!
Update (4:56pm) : We just spoke with Klein, and two other Columbia students who are down at the protests, Alexandra Afifi and Layan Fuleihan. All three are CC’12. They have been at the sit-in on and off since it began last Saturday, and report that today has drawn the most people they’ve seen yet.
The slew of arrests was precipitated by a march from Zuccotti Park, their base of operations, to Union Square. “The whole time the cops were trying to divert us but we managed to stay on the street the entire time. All the pedestrians were involved and seemed very supportive,” Klein said. NYPD were closely monitoring the march, but when the protestors reached Union Square, cops confronted them with large orange plastic nets, attempting to divide up the march, and divert the protestors in different directions. Many of those caught in the nets were arrested. Afifi described the particular arrests as “really arbitrary.” She said that they were not doing anything differently from the hundreds of other people: “We chanting in the same way, holding the same signs.” She added that all the arrests were made on the sidewalk, which is technically public property.
Klein believes this is a major turning point in the demonstration. Many new demonstrators showed up today, and pedestrians and locals became more involved and supportive. It also marked a shift in the nature of police actions. Arrests over the past few days have been relatively infrequent, and largely peaceful, albeit arbitrary. Layan said she’d seen people arrested for drawing on the sidewalk with chalk, for holding umbrellas, and for trying to screen their faces from the police cameras that are constantly filming the protestors.
Today, marchers were singled out and tackled to the ground. Some, including kids in high school, were hit with pepper spray and were visibly in severe pain. All those involved have emphasized how peaceful the march was. ”I didn’t see any provocation from any protestor at all,” Layan added.
Klein encouraged other students to get involved: “This movement really needs support. It would be great to get a lot of Columbia students down here. The more it grows the more everyone’s voice will be heard.” All three students are planning to stay at Zuccotti Park until they find out what’s happened to their friends. Right now the arrested protestors, who fill up two vans and a bus, are being driven around the city because they have no place to put them. “I’ve stayed two nights,” Afifi said. “I’ll definitely stay the night here if I don’t hear anything.”
Update (5:10pm) : One of the arrested students still has his phone. He believes he will be detained for a few days, but will need a lawyer, and reports that the other student was hurt during his arrest.
Update (Sep. 25, 1:42pm) : We just spoke to Klein again, who told us that the other two detained Columbia students were released last night with disorderly conduct charges. Most other detainees held with the students were released as well—Klein also mentioned that apparently there were a lot of bystanders that were arrested along with the protesters, but they too were subsequently released.