This past Monday's "Flood Wall Street" march and sit-in, organized by remnants of the Occupy Wall Street movement, was designed to provoke a confrontation with the police that would lead to mass arrests, which for the most part failed, but not before attracting national attention to their cause via theatrical civil disobedience.
Prior to the march, leaders of the happening used the human mic to offer "Non-violent Direct Action Training," which included instructions on how to be arrested peacefully and providing pens to write the phone number for the National Lawyers Guild on your arm.
Their stated goal was to "shut down" Wall Street, and by extension capitalism, to end the climate crisis, but after 8 hours of sporadic sitting and standing, performance art, and the return of Hipster Cop, the crowd had thinned-out significantly and only 102 arrests were made.
The part of Broadway in Lower Manhattan, just north of Bowling Green, is narrow and frequently congested even without 3,000 people in the middle of the street. Police erected barricades to separate the two sides of the street, and about a dozen bored-looking cops paced back and forth within those barricades for hours while Flood Wall Street had their moment.
Though most protesters were peaceful, many shouted insults at the police and some, like the prankster who tried to lasso the Wall Street Bull, came perilously close to assaulting police officers, which could have easily sparked a wider confrontation.
What most befuddled and frustrated the protesters was that the cops seemed to be in no hurry to crack skulls and drag thousands of hippies to the pokey.
They could be forgiven for expecting a heavy-handed reponse from the NYPD, given how the cops handled the eviction of the orignal Occupy Wall Street encampment, but credit where it's due, the police allowed the protesters to have their say before calling off the party as night fell, and then handling the dispersement as peaceably as possible.
Brooklyn College professor and police reform advocate Alex S. Vitale praised the NYPD for its patience, tolerance and professionalism, going so far as to award them credit for giving the First Amendment "a major victory":
A couple of thousand people showed up and at around 11:30 a.m. many sat down next the bull sculpture in the middle of Broadway just above Bowling Green. They were allowed to occupy that space for much of the afternoon. The police made no effort to arrest them, disperse them, or even to isolate them from onlookers. This was a major departure from past practice. Similar efforts in recent years have been met with widespread use of force to push demonstrators onto sidewalks along with often random arrests to intimidate others.
By around 3:30 PM many of those sitting in dispersed, but several hundred marched north towards Wall Street. Police made little to no effort to contain them until demonstrators attempted to breach the barriers blocking access to Wall Street. At that point a few people were subjected to pepper spray and punches as they wrestled with police over the barricades there–a not unreasonable use of force given the circumstances.
Even after that violent confrontation, police allowed people to occupy Broadway for another 3 hours before finally warning, then arresting the remaining 100 protestors in a calm, deliberate, and methodical manner.
While some may criticize the mayor for tying the NYPD's hands, in fact this is an example of the kind of more tolerant and flexible policing the city needs as an antidote to 20 years of aggressive zero tolerance approaches. The First Amendment scored a major victory this week.