And, just a day after my last post, Occupy Rochester took a huge turn toward the dark reality of what Occupy is in so many other cities: free speech grating against the boundaries of police oppression. While so far there has been no violence here, we have had 30 arrests and counting tonight, after a month without incident.
I know I said I would keep this blog apolitical, but I needed a place where I could report and put together the story of what I saw, a bit less fragmented than the #ROCcupy twitter feed but more linear than a photo album, where I can compile the tweets and pictures in a readable form. While I do strongly endorse the Occupy movement, I was very unimpressed with the decision, made abruptly yesterday (Thursday 10/28) to move from the Liberty Pole and set up a camp, effective just one day later, without permission from the city or strong consensus from Occupy itself.
The evening began with a zombie walk protest march, which unfortunately I missed, not making it to the park until about 9pm. Washington Square was still buzzing with people and littered with signs from the zombie march, but most of the more hardcore occupiers left for a while to get their camping gear.
9:51pm – Even if you don’t want to risk arrest I’d like to see all of you here by 11pm. The worst that can happen is we march in circles on the sidewalk at 10:59, providing a distraction and a disapproving crowd while whatever goes down in the park.
The mood was understandably tense in the 10pm hour, as we waited for what seemed like inevitable chaos at 11. We practiced speeches and chants, and stress-ate bags of halloween candy and doughnuts brought as a donation by Wegmans workers.
10:50pm – The people united will never be defeated!
Most of the campers were still setting up, but the rest of us started chanting and making loud noises as the 11:00 news showed up
The dreaded 11:00 passed strangely without incident. While a General Assembly developed at the statue of Lincoln, all four news stations took interviews at the other end of the park. Notably absent was any police presence. A theory began creeping through the murmured zeitgeist that it would in fact be 11:35 that the heat would be put on our gathering, once the outside broadcast vans were cleaned up and the only news would come from Chief Shepard’s press release in the morning.
It didn’t even take that long; at 11:20, a convoy of police cruisers arrived, and were met swiftly by a scrum of reporters. There are few things cops dislike more than to be surrounded by cameras. Undoubtedly tempered by media presence, they cordially gave the Occupiers 15 minutes to clear the park. Maybe one or two budged, everyone else got even louder, recognizing the more or less idle threat.
11:38pm – They gave us 15 minutes to clear out, which is up. No action yet, we are still chanting and rallying at the Square.
11:39pm – The police have relayed a message that they are sending officials who may let us remain in the park overnight!
This news caused a tremendous roar in the park, and the announcement provoked some of the most rousing chanting of the night. While most of the television vans left, channel 13 stayed on air live on their digital broadcast, covering the speeches (hopefully with a 7 second delay!)
11:47pm – We are still here and strong, waiting for more word from our city. Let this Square be our Tahrir! Let this Park be our Zuccotti!
As the crowd continued to show no signs of dispersing, the police presence grew heavier and heavier, and the news vans returned. The mood on the ground was the same sort of almost savage joy in gallantry as one could expect from soldiers facing their first battle. But without any motion to arrest yet, we held our ground and rallied ever louder.
11:54pm – The police have blocked southbound streets. Chief has arrived at Washington Square.
The sight of Chief Shepherd walking along the sidewalk, flanked by a few lieutenants, quickly sent everyone who didn’t want to be arrested tonight away. Which still left a few dozen in the park waiting for their chance to win overnight accommodation in a holding cell.
Chief Shepard himself did the deed, and with his deputy dragged away the first arrest of the night. The mood of the event instantly went over from bold and joyous to incensed and defiant.
11:57pm – One arrest and counting. Chant of “The whole world is watching!”
12:01am – They have stopped so far with one arrest. We are loud and numerous still on the sidewalks and in the square
12:05am – Two down, we have just lost our police liaison to them.
12:07am – We have elected a new liaison, still at 2 arrested.
Things quieted down for a few minutes, as the chief processed what to do with his new trophy catch. Then the rank and file officers descended on the park, and began methodically removing one Occupier after another, raising the arrest count one at a time, picking off mostly recognizable faces first.
12:15am – 5 down so far including another liaison
12:20am – 7 down, [Ryan] Acuff taken away, Krause goes down yelling about RFK and Martin Luther King
This was becoming the scene, one after another, all willingly resigning to and accepting their arrest.
12:23am – 9 down, James the latest, chants of “go fight real crime!” So far cops haven’t touched the sidewalks full of chanting protestors.
One arrest after another still, young, old, men, women, all taken out in the exact same way and loaded into the paddy wagons.
12:31am – The police are lining up, 14 down including Olivia so far
12:32am – It’s 16 now, Chelsea, CJ, Jake Allen, Holly the latest arrests.
12:34am – 19 arrests, the teacher, Anna and Ben taken off the Square
12:37am – (Holly) is the 20th arrest, cops taking a break so far after a burst of lining up and arresting peaceful protestors
12:42am – No further arrests yet, processing the ones who were already taken
12:45am – Police talked to and let go a wrong way driver on Clinton. Yet they arrest 20 protesters who present no danger to themselves or others. What is wrong with them?
12:51am – Police and sheriff cruisers take away some of the arrested… still no further action
12:54am – More arrests imminent — but only those lined up in the park. Those in sidewalks allowed to remain, clean park after end of arrests. Upcoming march tonight on public safety building as soon as this ends!
Perhaps the strangest moment of the night involved the 22nd and 23rd arrests. A photographer for the RIT student newspaper walked into the park to take a picture of one of the arrests, believing that only those who intended to be arrested would be taken. Somewhat predictably, an officer grabbed him to arrest as well. In an act of desperation (and to prevent it being lost as evidence), the photographer threw the camera toward the sidewalk crowd. The pass was underthrown, and his professor crossed the park boundary to catch the camera. While the professor was already back in line, officers took him away as well, a total departure from prior behavior.
1:01am – 27 arrests and counting, including Shirley, Lisa, Denise, Evan, and Lynn.
Jesse was the 27th arrest of the night, leaving just 3 people remaining in the park.
The final two hold hands, waiting for their turn to go to jail
1:03am – 29 arrests so far, Emily Good standing in the square untouched
1:05am – Emily still free! This seems to be it, they were more than capable of arresting her and haven’t. Final (?) arrest count = 29.
1:08am – Emily still safe, and clearing the park to us. She is the only one who they won’t arrest. Chief retracted permission for us to help clean the park.
1:09am – Officers tell us to grab belongings and clear park, in a third reversal
1:10am – March on Public Safety on Exchange st coming up as soon as the tents are cleared.
Emily held the park alone, with a ring of onlookers on the sidewalk undoubtedly as confused as she was that the 30th arrest had yet to occur. Officers hovered over her from time to time, but did nothing, evidently afraid she would create as much of a stink for this one as her last two court cases.
1:21am – Emily occupies the square alone. We stand in solidarity from the sidewalks.
1:25am – An officer takes a photo of Emily and walks off.
1:27am – Officers prepare to arrest Emily.
And finally, Emily too was gone, and on her way to the jail. With 30 arrests, the police job was done, and we prepared to go off to the jail and bail out some comrades.
1:28am – They took our Emily!
1:40am – We stand in quiet opposition at Public Safety. Working on figuring out bail and who exactly has been hit.
1:47am – 30 of our brothers and sisters in resistance were taken from us today by agents of the RPD. But the people, united, will never be defeated! We have already begun negotiations to bail the first one out!
1:55am – One officer remains at the Square to make sure we don’t come back for a while.
2:06am – Expecting bail money soon to get the first ones out!
And this is where I left them, with a story just beginning to unravel over the next few days, and wondering if, in fact, the whole world was watching. It remains to be seen what the next action will be, and whether all of these arrests were taken in vain… I hope, for the sake of these 30, that is not the case.