Last Night at Zuccotti Park

Zuccotti Park, New York, November 14, 2011. From boingboing.net.

More entries to come.

Dear Police,

You keep inserting yourself and distracting OWS. Could you please stay home? The conflict is between American citizens and concentrations of wealth, and the government hangs in the balance between them. But you keep pushing in and trying to fight, or beat people up, as I saw you do last night, or just throw your weight around, needlessly, and waste our time. It’s narcissistic. It’s tiring to even think about you. What last night’s wastefulness reminded me is that I need to stop defending you, or worrying about your humanity and underlying goodness, or your possibility of recognizing your places as citizens, too. All that would be nice to think about. But I was reminded, looking at you, that every one of us is still responsible, and everyone has a choice finally, to obey or disobey, to do wrong or right. You abdicate that choice; that doesn’t mean you have to ruin it for the rest of America. I believe that when your Officer Cho was leaning on my chest last night with a plastic police shield, to clear room for pedestrians who didn’t exist, on an empty sidewalk at 1 AM in the Financial District, pushing hard with a line of his coworkers on a crowd of us, all of whom actually were pedestrians on that sidewalk, as he and I were locked in place, he said to me, from behind his plastic visor, where he could watch us all as if on television, or in his car, so he didn’t have to think, this phrase: “It’s a game.” “What?” I said. “We push you back, you push us back. We’re both doing our jobs. A game.” No. It’s not. So get out of the way.

Incidentally, I saw two chants give you pause last night.  “This—is—a peaceful—pro-test” was one; you all stopped shoving us and stood there like blue clad mannequins.  Why did that paralyze you—because you’re telling yourself in your head that you’re fighting violence, to do what you do?  The other was sad: “Police—protect—the 1 per-cent.”  You were standing, twenty of you, defending an empty street with bank skyscrapers rising out of it. You don’t belong in those skyscrapers. You knew it too.


Trinity Park, as it’s being called, is, fittingly, a humble triangular patch of concrete. On the corner of Sixth and Canal in downtown Manhattan, it’s surrounded by plywood and chainlink fencing, and so is a place of some myster –hard to see into, around, or out of.

This morning, several hundred protesters, and a large contingent of reporters and cops, sat and stood just outside the fence, listening as clergy of various sorts delivered short, human-miked speeches and prayers. Afterward it was announced, by a besuited, baseball-capped protester standing atop the wall, that the plan for weeks had been to spread the occupation here to Trinity Park, which was owned by Trinity Church (of Wall Street). The church hadn’t offered the park, he said, adding neatly that “sometimes it’s better, both for the receiver and the giver, if the receiver asks for forgiveness rather than permission.” He intimated that it had been intimated that the church would tolerate OWS’s presence.

I didn’t know then that, as the Trinity website says, “Trinity Church and real estate go together in many people’s minds, with good reason.” The church is “one of the largest landholders in Manhattan.”

A small number of police (twenty or so; small compared to the number about to arrive) in regular (non-riot) uniform, who had been watching from a distance, approached the crowd at the fence, lingered awhile, and retreated. Protesters climbed over the plywood wall on the east side, then opened the gate to the south. The OWS banners and symbolic four-poster tents were carried inside. People flowed in; many more stayed outside. Others perched atop the plywood, passing news between groups.

Before long the cops in riot gear began to arrive en masse, moving in double rows. One brushed against me, then put his arm around my shoulders and apologized. It was hard to see what was happening on other sides of the fence; the crowd followed a core of reporters up and down the hypotenuse, trying to stay near the main thrust of the police force.

Before long, scores of police in riot gear were ready at the northeast corner; perhaps there were as many at the other gates. The protesters atop the wall called out that the cops were bluffing, that they lacked authority to raid this privately owned park; the words seemed unconvincing. The mood was tense, glum. But then a murmur surged through the crowd, and turned to a cheer:

“The clergy are coming!”

The men and women who’d spoken earlier, and more, were headed with determined speed, in their collars and robes, toward the gate to block it. It was a pleasing sight, and I was reminded of the best aspects of my Catholic upbringing–the real deeds, the real dedicated work to ameliorate poverty and promote equality.

I couldn’t see what happened to the clergy in particular, but it became clear that Trinity Real Estate had asked for or okayed a raid. By noon the police, in their absurd numbers, in their absurd costumes, had entered the park, and again the arrests began.


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