Occupy’s try to pitch its tent in Hudson Square is blocked

Angry Occupy Wall Street protesters took to the streets on Tuesday after they were evicted from their home base earlier in the morning. Photo by Jason B. Nicholas

By LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  Hudson Square is a neighborhood still striving to raise its profile. And if Occupy Wall Street protesters had gotten their wish, that certainly would have happened in a big way, as the upcoming neighborhood would have been thrust into the glare of the international media spotlight that is following the determined fight of the “99 percent” for economic justice.

However, an effort to turn a privately owned open space at Duarte Square into Occupy Wall Street’s fallback encampment on Tuesday morning ran into a stiff blue wall of opposition.

Earlier Tuesday, a massive force of police officers had descended on Zuccotti Park at 1 a.m. They spent the next four hours systematically clearing the tent-filled park.

After O.W.S. was evicted from its home base, protesters marched around Lower Manhattan or camped out nearby, then, shortly after dawn, regrouped at Duarte Square, at Sixth Ave. and Canal St. Holding a General Assembly meeting, they resolved to enter the adjacent walled open space that has been used for LentSpace, a public sculpture park run by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Some of them then hopped over the wall, while two other individuals produced a bolt cutter, which they used to clip a gaping hole in the chain-link fence on the space’s southern side, allowing protesters to walk right in.

However, police moved quickly to block a new epicenter for O.W.S. — a “Zuccotti II” — from taking root in the gated space, making about 20 to 25 arrests and forcing the protesters out of the enclosure.

Garrett Perkins, 29, said the idea was to use the LentSpace site as a new camp-out area, partly because it was privately owned, but also because it has walls around it, which would have made it ideal. Perkins said he had actually managed to pitch his tent in the LentSpace area when the police moved in to clear out the protesters, at which point, he promptly threw his gear over the fence and hopped out.

As he spoke early Tuesday afternoon, he pulled out of his pocket a small silver metal disk from an artwork on LentSpace’s eastern wall — a souvenir from an almost occupation.

A metal worker from Chugiak, Alaska, he’d been camping at Zuccotti for the past three weeks. With his belongings in big bags strapped to his back and over his stomach, plus a waffle-style air mattress folded up on his back as well, he was standing amid hundreds of protesters outside Zuccotti Park around 1:30 p.m., as they demanded to be let back in. A judge had granted a temporary restraining order on the eviction, but by 2 p.m. another judge had tossed it out.

“I have a lot of cold-weather gear, enough for four people,” Perkins noted of his bulky bags.

“Workers and students shut the city down!” some protesters were chanting nearby. A major day of protest was planned for Thursday, including a “Shut Down Wall St.” action, which, no doubt, prompted the city to act on Zuccotti.

Photos by Tequila MinskyAn O.W.S. protester sitting on the LentSpace wall at Duarte Square during the General Assembly on Tuesday morning.

Inside the eviction
Perkins said he had almost fallen asleep in his tent in the northwest section of Zuccotti on Tuesday morning when the police action started about 1 a.m. After about five minutes of initial disarray, protesters put their preplanned emergency response into action.

“We all stayed around our kitchen, which is the heart of our movement,” he said. Four to six people in the center locked themselves together with “U” locks around their necks, he said. Meanwhile, he was in a group that hooked themselves into their backpacks and luggage and then tied themselves together via their luggage.

Eventually, at 3:50 a.m., police walked him out of the park with another protester he was linked to by their luggage. Perkins said that while he had been doing civil disobedience in the park, a police officer had punched him in the face, but he wasn’t sporting any visible bruises or cuts on Tuesday afternoon.

A print reporter who was able to get into Zuccotti before the police action, said that, despite police’s orders to reporters and photographers to clear the park during the eviction, he stayed. He somehow managed to discretely hang around the O.W.S. kitchen, and ultimately ended up watching the eviction for the full four hours.

“We just sort of stayed in the center,” he said. “It was sort of like being in the eye of the storm.”

Right before it ended, he walked out of the park, avoiding arrest.

Asked how police had conducted the eviction, the reporter said, “Methodical, relentless. They were depending on overwhelming force, which is what they had.” The veteran reporter said he had never seen a massing of so many police officers in one location.

Freelance photographer Leah Kozak rushed down from her Sullivan St. apartment when she heard Zuccotti was being emptied.

“When I got here I was a block away from the park,” she said Tuesday around 2:15 a.m. “Police were pushing people away. They were rough. You could smell pepper spray in the air. People’s eyes were watery and tearing up. It was scary.”

Planned site of Zuccotti II
Duarte Square — a brick-lined plaza with benches and a statue of Juan Pablo Duarte, the father of the Dominican Republic — is owned by the city. The adjacent, dirt-covered Trinity-owned space was formerly home to an office building that was razed, and Trinity hopes to build a new residential tower there with a New York City public school in its base — provided a residential rezoning for Hudson Square is granted.

Brookfield Office Properties, which owns Zuccotti Park, supported the efforts to clear Zuccotti of the tent city that had sprung up there in the past several weeks, and in fact, back in October, had supported efforts to keep people from sleeping there in sleeping bags even before the tents started going up. However, the mayor and police had “blinked” on Oct. 14 after having said the park would be temporarily cleared for cleaning, and allowed the protesters to stay.

The Trinity-owned lot at Sixth Ave. and Canal St. is similarly privately owned. A temporary project, the LentSpace sculpture space was opened with a ribbon-cutting in September 2009. No doubt, it appealed to O.W.S. precisely because it is privately owned and thus not subject to city park curfews.

Trinity Wall Street church has supported the protesters. However, the church said the Hudson Square open space was not open for occupation, and gave police the green light to make arrests.

Trinity issues statement
Trinity issued the following statement: “Duarte Square…is comprised of both public and private land. Duarte Park, on the eastern edge, is city-owned public land. The larger, enclosed portion of the square is private space owned by Trinity Wall Street and currently licensed for use to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council for a temporary art installation known as ‘Lent Space’ that is closed for the season. Neither Trinity Wall Street nor the L.M.C.C. has given permission for members of Occupy Wall Street to enter the private area.

“Trinity respects the rights of citizens to protest peacefully and supports the vigorous engagement of the concerns of the protesters. Trinity continues to provide gathering and meeting spaces for Occupy Wall Street in its neighborhood center and facilities in and around Wall St.”

Night full of marching
Following the police action at Zuccotti, a group of O.W.S. protesters about 100 or 200 strong marched past City Hall and then up to Foley Square — where some of them jumped atop the “Triumph of the Human Spirit” statue in the fountain as the group decided where to go next — then wended their way up Lafayette St. and Broadway to about Washington Place, then back over to Lafayette St. and finally back down to Foley Square.

“We have all night to march around!” one man assured the group at one point. “Go home!” some of them yelled at the police.

They were accompanied for most of the way by a strong contingent of officers, many wearing riot helmets and holding clubs, who ran along next to them in the street. Overhead, a police helicopter slowly circled low in the sky, shining down a searchlight, tracking the protesters’ movements.

Efforts by the group to head to Union Square and Washington Square — “There’s a place at Washington Square,” it was announced at one “mic check,” apparently referring to Judson Memorial Church — were largely thwarted by police. At various points, police blocked the marchers as they walked on the sidewalk, and took every opportunity to split the march into successively smaller and smaller groups.

At times sprinting in formation, like a well-drilled football team executing a designed play, the police would rush in to block the marchers’ path. On one such occasion, they surrounded a group of marchers who were all on the sidewalk just north of the Crunch gym on Lafayette St., giving the sense that arrests were imminent. But, after a tense few moments, the officers opened up the semicircle’s southern side, allowing the marchers to head back Downtown.

Candidate / comic arrested
At the corner of Fourth St. and Broadway, police had a man seated and handcuffed in the street near the curb.

“What’s your name?” protesters called out to him.

“Randy Credico!” he called back before being stuffed into a police S.U.V.

A standup comic turned antidrug activist, Credico ran against Senator Chuck Schumer in 2010 on the Libertarian line, winning 0.5 percent of the vote.

“The guy said I had been on the street too long a block earlier,” Credico said of the arresting officer. “I was yelling ‘Attica!’ at them,” he said, though adding, “I was always on the sidewalk.”

Credico said it could actually be better for O.W.S. that Zuccotti was cleared of its tent city.

“We shook off some of the riffraff of the park,” he said, “and now it’s going to be serious. There were people down there that were just loafing around and not participating in marches and rallies.”

Showing solidarity
Cosmo Baker, marching along with the group up Broadway on Tuesday around 4 a.m., said he wasn’t an Occupier but was showing support.

“I was in Greenpoint at home when I started getting noise via Twitter and Facebook — it’s sort of the Bat Signal situation,” said Baker, a DJ.

“This is about a show of solidarity,” he stated. “I’m not even into Occupy Wall Street, necessarily. But when police have a chance to exert their force unnecessarily, citizens need to stand up.”

Billy and the Grannies
Outside Zuccotti Park on Thursday shortly after noon, Reverend Billy was telling everyone to prepare for mass arrests.

His blond pompadour shaking excitedly above the crowd’s heads, he shouted out, “Mic check!… We may go to jail very soon. What happens tonight sets off Thursday. We need to have Thursday be as big a ‘Shut Down Wall St.’ as ever happened in history.”

However, Joan Pleune, a member of the Granny Peace Brigade, said the idea was not to try to get arrested, but to get a message across. A psychiatrist on the Upper West Side, she said she had to get set for Thursday’s day of action.

“I have clients in the morning — I have to reschedule,” she said.

Full day of events
Thursday’s planned events include the declared “Shut Down Wall St.” action in the morning, followed by gatherings in parks in the afternoon that will reportedly converge at Foley Square. The evening could reportedly see some sort of event on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Perkins said the bridge action will, in fact, include film projectors and screens and boats with video. Thursday marks the movement’s two-month anniversary. Money from unions and O.W.S. are funding the costs of the elaborate bridge action, he said.

“We’re hoping to have a birthday party,” Perkins said with a smile.

O.W.S. protesters perched on the wall during the General Assembly. Some had already started to enter the Trinity-owned space.

Questions about Duarte arrests
Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, said he was awakened early Tuesday morning by the racket of the police helicopter hovering overhead, and turned on the news to see Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1, criticizing the clearing of Zuccotti Park. Board 1 had made strides getting the protesters to work better with the community, Menin said, but the city never even sent anyone to their meetings.

Sweeney walked over to Duarte Square to check out was going on.

“The crowd was quite peaceful at Duarte,” he said, “so the arrests on Trinity’s lot were a surprise. The crowd itself seemed like transplants from a gathering of the Rainbow Family, that band of itinerant hippies.

“I question what authority the N.Y.P.D. had to arrest people in Trinity’s property,” Sweeney continued. “I assume the charge was for trespassing. What else could it be? Disorderly conduct? For standing inside an empty lot?

“I also thought that unless there are signs expressly prohibiting trespass, or else if the property owner presses charges directly, that the police have no right to arrest for trespassing.”

Sweeney noted Paul Newell, a Democratic district leader out of the D.I.D. club, was also arrested at Zucotti Park, but was let out relatively quickly by 5 a.m. with a desk-appearance ticket.

“He must have been the only one arrested who was wearing a jacket and tie,” Sweeney quipped.