The Observer was on hand to witness the NYPD raid on Occupy Wall Street last night–or as much as we were able to see from behind the metal barricades police used to keep both press and protesters away from the encampment in Zuccotti Park. We saw violence in the “Canyon of Heroes” along Lower Broadway, multiple arrests, anger at the media and an unexpected celebrity cameo.
We arrived on the scene shortly after one in the morning. Multiple protesters told us the raid began at about 12:40 a.m. We attempted to access the park multiple times but were told we could not cross the barricades despite identifying ourselves as press. Also stuck behind the barricades were photographers from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Reuters, a Japanese television crew, a man wearing a CNBC badge and an NBC cameraman who told us their live truck was blocked from entering the park. CBS reporter Manuel Gallegas also told us he was barred from the park.
“They’re kicking everybody out. Write about it,” Gallegas said.
At one point, we were able to catch a quick glimpse of the park. Police in riot gear lifted up a man by his ankles and wrists and carried him down the steps leading into the park. Other officers were dismantling the tents and throwing debris from the park. As we attempted to take photos, a group of police moved the barricades forward and ordered us to cross the street where the park could not be seen.
Behind the barricades we saw protesters streaming out of the park carrying plastic bags stuffed with their possessions. Several former denizens of the encampment were accompanied by their dogs, others carried instruments.
A man who identified himself as Casper Michaels sat on the ground surrounded by bags. He told us the raid was preceded by a warning delivered to the protesters by police officers using a megaphone and saying:
“Erecting structures or storing of personal belongings is prohibited in Zuccotti Park. The abundance of items in the park is a fire hazard. Any belongings left in the park will be removed to a sanitation warehouse. After inspection, you will be permitted to return.”
According to Mr. Michaels the police continually repeated this warning. Other protesters told me the police also distributed flyers detailing the terms of the eviction.
At approximately 3 a.m., we encountered a group of protesters marching on Trinity and Broadway. They alternated between chants of “All day, all week Occupy Wall Street!” and “We are the 99%.” The marchers walked to Pine Street and Broadway where they came up against a line of police in riot gear behind a barricade. Protesters lined up in front of the officers.
This section of Broadway in the heart of the financial district is known as the “Canyon of Heroes” because it is used for ticker tape parades following sports championships and other celebratory occasions.
A man called out to signal that he wished to begin using the call and response “people’s mic” that has become a hallmark of the Occupy protests around the country.
“What would be so illegal for us to walk peaceably to Liberty Square? What would be endangerment of the public, of which we are?” he asked. The other protesters repeated each of his words.
Several protesters attempted to speak with the police, who remained silent.
“We’re here for you!” a woman said.
Other protesters expressed anger at the officers.
“You are no longer heroes!” a group chanted.
We overheard a woman in the crowd say she was in Zuccotti Park during the raid and was pepper sprayed by the police. She told us her name was Allegra Frierson.
“Everybody was sprayed it was just a chemical sprayed in the air it was wafting through the crowd… They were tackling people, it was unnecessary… Police were dragging people out by their hands and feet it was horrible,” Ms. Frierson said.
Throughout the night protesters continually converged on the corner of Pine and Broadway. Inside the barricades, we saw garbage trucks removing debris from Zuccotti Park. At around four in the morning, a group of protesters who we heard describe themselves as anarchists began chanting “Media go home!”
When we asked why they wanted press to leave a woman whose face was covered in a black bandana angrily told us, “Look at the cops not us!”
“Can I just tell you, you’re kind of an asshole for staying here writing shit down,” she said.
“Fuck you! Why don’t you write that down?” another woman asked.
We walked back toward the front lines at the barricade and a man approached us to explain that protesters were angry at the press because some had been arrested after photos were published showing their faces. As a helicopter flew overhead, some protesters began jumping on police cars that were parked on the curb.
“No justice, no peace! Fuck the police!” one said.
A burly man named Jason Walsh convinced two men to get off the hood of one of the police cars.
“Get the fuck off the cop car. De-escalate. You’re going to make them beat people up,” Mr. Walsh said.
Another man called out for a mic check and made an announcement.
“Broadway and Pine is trending on Twitter,” he said.
A young woman got into a shouting match with another man.
“I’ll kill you!” she shouted before throwing a punch that connected
with the man’s jaw.
Other protesters quickly separated them.
“Her mom’s a cop and she’s pissed off we don’t like cops. All I said was, ‘What’s your mom going to do when they ask her to beat us?’” the man told us as he walked away.
As 5 a.m. approached, riot police began massing behind the barricade. At 5:10, they parted the steel gates and streamed out into the crowd of protesters. Using batons, the officers pushed protesters out of the street and onto adjacent sidewalks.
Some protesters encouraged the group to fight back with shouts of “Push!” Others suggested the group vacate the intersection and “occupy” nearby Battery Park.
A woman standing on the sidelines started jumping up and down on the hood of a parked police car. One of the policemen grabbed her by the neck of her shirt and threw her to the ground. Police encircled the woman and the officer before she was carried off. As they led her away, we asked her name. She identified herself as Annie Oberlink.
We saw another man being led away and a third man who was violently pulled off the sidewalk before being cuffed and taken off. It was unclear what he had done to merit this special attention.
After about ten minutes of intense shoving, all of the protesters had moved to the sidewalk. Many began leaving the area.
A man wearing Anonymous’ trademark Guy Fawkes mask on top of his head was loudly sharing his opinion about the protest to anyone who would listen. He told us his name was Jake.
“There were people smoking crack, people with puppies begging for money, we looked like shit,” Jake said of the Zuccotti Park encampment. “Now what do we look like? Peaceful protesters getting our asses kicked. This is the best thing that could have happened. There are thousands of people watching us at 5 a.m.”
A man in a baseball cap filmed Jake as he spoke to us. Afterwards, he approached us and identified himself as “Joe.” We immediately recognized him as Inception star Joseph Gordon Levitt. He told us he was filming the proceedings for his site HitRECord.
Mr. Gordon Levitt told us he had only been in New York for “a few weeks” and decided to head to the financial district when he heard news of the raid.
“I was actually planning on coming tomorrow for the first time,” Mr. Gordon-Levitt said.
As we left the area to file our story, we asked Mr. Gordon-Levitt what he thought would come next for the Occupy movement.
“It seems like it’s growing, our economy is getting worse and worse,” Mr. Gordon-Levitt said.
Final version updated 9:14 a.m.