Occupy Wall Street, the floating leftist protest in Manhattan that’s camped out in downtown Manhattan in an endless protest against...something, attempted to migrate to Brooklyn this weekend, blocking vehicle traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge and resulting in mass arrests.
The New York Times, whose attitude toward Tea Party rallies was invariably hostile, blasted support throughout the weekend for the vague leftist “occupation” of Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge. Sunday’s National section picked up on the arrests: “About 500 Arrested as Demonstrators Try to Cross Brooklyn Bridge” by Al Baker and Colin Moynihan, with additional reporting by Natasha Lennard and William Rashbaum (Lennard will play a role later).
Unlike the New York Daily News and New York Post, whose reporting (with videotape) made it clear the police gave protesters ample warning to stay on the walkway and not to block the roadway, the Times left it ambivalent, to the approval of the story’s liberal online commentators.
A Times text box left the matter up for debate (“The police say marchers were to blame; protesters insist they were misled”) as did the story’s lead paragraphs:
In a tense showdown above the East River, the police arrested more than 700 demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street protests who took to the roadway as they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday afternoon.
The police said it was the marchers’ choice that led to the enforcement action.
“Protesters who used the Brooklyn Bridge walkway were not arrested,” Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the New York Police Department, said. “Those who took over the Brooklyn-bound roadway, and impeded vehicle traffic, were arrested.”
But many protesters said they believed the police had tricked them, allowing them onto the bridge, and even escorting them partway across, only to trap them in orange netting after hundreds had entered.
“The cops watched and did nothing, indeed, seemed to guide us onto the roadway,” said Jesse A. Myerson, a media coordinator for Occupy Wall Street who marched but was not arrested.
Where the entrance to the bridge narrowed their path, some marchers, including organizers, stuck to the generally agreed-upon route and headed up onto the wooden walkway that runs between and about 15 feet above the bridge’s traffic lanes.
But about 20 others headed for the Brooklyn-bound roadway, said Christopher T. Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who accompanied the march. Some of them chanted “take the bridge!” They were met by a handful of high-level police supervisors, who blocked the way and announced repeatedly through bullhorns that the marchers were blocking the roadway and that if they continued to do so, they would be subject to arrest.
There were no physical barriers, though, and at one point, the marchers began walking up the roadway with the police commanders in front of them -- seeming, from a distance, as if they were leading the way. The Chief of Department Joseph J. Esposito, and a horde of other white-shirted commanders, were among them.
After allowing the protesters to walk about a third of the way to Brooklyn, the police then cut the marchers off and surrounded them with orange nets on both sides, trapping hundreds of people, said Mr. Dunn. As protesters at times chanted “white shirts, white shirts,” officers began making arrests, at one point plunging briefly into the crowd to grab a man.
A freelance reporter for The New York Times, Natasha Lennard, was among those arrested. She was later released.
Indeed Lennard’s string of Twitter updates from the protest ended at her arrest. Along with scores of others, she was taken to jail for processing, but was quickly let go thanks to pressure from Times editors.
Yet Lennard’s post on the paper’s City Room blog Sunday night, “Covering the March, on Foot and in Handcuffs,” was consistent with the police account of events.
The Internet was filled with pointed suggestions that officers from the New York Police Department led protesters onto the road as a trap to perform mass arrests; indeed, some video footage seems to show officers leading protesters onto the “illegal” section of the bridge. From what I saw, however, a couple of dozen marchers made the decision to move off the sidewalk into the road at the bridge’s entrance to chants of “off the sidewalks, into the streets.”
This breakaway group quickly gained support of surrounding marchers, numbers of whom jumped over barricades on the sidewalk’s edge to stream into the road, until hundreds of people eventually covered the passageway usually intended for a steady flow of traffic.
Ginia Bellafante, a jack-of-all-trades Times critic with a strange hostility toward the late free-market economist Milton Friedman, made the front of the Sunday Metropolitan section comparing a policeman using pepper spray on a protester to “a toddler who throws his food on the floor” and lauding the protesters good intentions.
The New York Police Department could not have intended to operate as a public relations arm for Occupy Wall Street, but its invidious treatment of the demonstrators last weekend went a tremendous way toward galvanizing sympathy for the group’s good but porous intentions. Video widely seen on the Internet of a high-ranking officer, later identified as Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, attacking what appeared to be docile protesters with pepper spray prompted public outrage and investigations by the Internal Affairs Bureau of the Police Department and Manhattan prosecutors....Like a toddler who throws his food on the floor, gets in trouble and then just does it again, the Police Department overreacts to peaceful protests, invites ire and then reprises its actions the next time it encounters agitation. Inspector Bologna is a defendant in lawsuits claiming wrongful arrests at protests during the Republican National Convention in 2004.
Lastly, Nicholas Kristof’s Sunday column “The Bankers and the Revolutionaries” repeated his bizarre Twitter update from Friday comparing the Wall Street protesters to those protesting Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir Square in Cairo.
I tweeted that the protest reminded me a bit of Tahrir Square in Cairo, and that raised eyebrows. True, no bullets are whizzing around, and the movement won’t unseat any dictators. But there is the same cohort of alienated young people, and the same savvy use of Twitter and other social media to recruit more participants. Most of all, there’s a similar tide of youthful frustration with a political and economic system that protesters regard as broken, corrupt, unresponsive and unaccountable.
Kristof faulted the protesters for lack of specific demands, then helpfully provided some, including “a financial transactions tax” and “adopting the Volcker Rule to limit banks’ ability to engage in risky and speculative investments,” as well as a “bank tax.”