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Were protesters set up? The NYPD released a barely-audible video in which an officer announces via bullhorn that anyone who marches on the road would be subject to arrest. Ryan Devereaux of Democracy Now! reported from near the front of the procession that he personally observed the announcement. Yet despite his close proximity, Devereaux told me, he was unable to discern the officer's words. "Due to the buildup at the base of the bridge, and the chants of people around me, I personally could not understand anything that was being said over the megaphone," he recalled. "If you were any further back than I was, I can't imagine how you would've been able to hear anything at all."
No wonder protesters and many observers smell a rat. Conor Tomas Reed, a graduate student from New York, said the police operation appeared to have been a form of entrapment. "If there was that much of a fear that thousands of people would get onto the bridge," he told me, "they would've had a line of cops at the entrance, all with their billy clubs out, and several people with bullhorns making announcements." Instead, video shows officers leading demonstrators onto the roadway portion of the bridge. The subsequent mass arrest impeded vehicular traffic for more than six hours. Demonstrators estimated it would have taken them between 20 and 45 minutes to walk across unobstructed.
Reports have also indicated that NYPD officers are mocking protesters while they are in custody; one transgender man said he was subjected to a "disrespectful genital pat down" and then chained to a restroom wall for more than eight hours. Such claims are made more plausible by the behavior of pepper-spraying cop Anthony Bologna, the menacing deputy inspector who doused at least five people during a march to Union Square on September 24.
"I think that was disgusting," David Suker, an Occupy Wall Street participant and veteran who served as an infantryman in Germany from 1986 to 1988, told me. "I think that guy should be in jail."
Dozens of police officers encircle Liberty Plaza at any given time, and I interviewed quite a few on Sunday and Monday, asking whether they had heard about what happened on the Brooklyn Bridge. Twenty-eight officers replied with some variation of "no"—they hadn't heard what happened—including a captain and a lieutenant. It seems as if cops are not being permitted to interact normally with press and other citizens. When I asked this man—pictured wearing a striped suit on the right, and standing alongside a row of uniformed officers—if he was with the NYPD, he simply replied "keep walking."
On Sunday evening, as I spoke with a cop on the sidewalk, some kind of "community affairs" officer approached me and asked if I was recording audio. I said yes and showed him the voice recorder I'd been holding in my hand. He instructed me to cease recording. I complied, then took out a notepad. The officer informed me that I was not allowed to write notes either. When I asked the officer issuing these instructions for his name, he refused to provide it; he was wearing a royal blue polo shirt with no name tag.
"The directive that you had to stop recording and taking notes was unlawful," said Chris Dunn, an associate legal director at the New York Civil Liberties Union. "Not disclosing his name would likely be a violation of department rules." Indeed, on Monday, when I asked another community affairs officer whether departmental code requires members of his division to provide their names upon request, he replied in the affirmative.
The only white-shirted senior officer that spoke with me on a human-like level was Deputy Inspector Bernie Del Pozzo, who I found articulate and respectful. However, in the middle of our conversation, an unidentified officer with the police department's "TARU"—Technical Assistance Response Unit—came up to Del Pozzo and said, "Hey, what's going on detective? How are you? You got two minutes?" and escorted him away.
Yes, I'll concede that I entered high cliché alert upon encountering a huddle of protesters singing Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A Changin'." But their passionate rendition would've made old Zimmerman proud. My takeaway from Liberty Plaza thus far is one of genuine pain and anger in the present, not a hipster-induced flashback to the sixties. Certainly it's worth acknowledging that for the past decade or more, under Republicans and Democrats alike, government and hugely influential corporations have dined out—and then gotten bailed out–by many of the people now calling for change.
Michael Tracey is a writer based in New Jersey. His work has appeared in The Nation, The Guardian, and The Washington Post.