Friday, September 30, 2011

Occupy Wall Street protesters march against police brutality

by Paul Harris

Several thousand anti-Wall Street protesters marched through downtown Manhattan on Friday night to protest against incidents of police brutality at a previous demonstration.

The group was part of the Occupy Wall Street movement which has camped for almost two weeks in a New York square to protest against the finance industry, among other grievances.

The group had attempted a march last weekend which ended in scores of arrests. Numerous incidents of police roughing up protesters were caught on film including one senior officer spraying mace at several female demonstrators being kept behind a police barrier.

Video of that attack went viral on the internet prompted mainstream media – which had mostly ignored the protests – to give them sympathetic attention. Computer hackers also released the name and address of the officer caught on film. Since then the occupation has garnered many new supporters and global press attention.

It has attracted celebrity visits from liberal figures such as filmmaker Michael Moore and actor Susan Sarandon. On Friday an apparently false rumour that the band Radiohead were to play an impromptu gig at the square caused a temporary Twitter storm.

But Friday night's march was aimed at highlighting the police violence at the previous protest. A long line of placard-carrying demonstrators wound the short distance from Zuccotti Park where the protesters are camped near Wall Street to Police Plaza, where the New York Police Department has its headquarters.

The march was led by a group of elderly grandmothers wearing yellows bibs emblazoned with the words: "Grannies for peace". That seemed to symbolise the protest's good-natured mood which appeared to be matched by the police's willingness to give the group the freedom to demonstrate.

Michele Moore, a former bank worker from Georgia, said she had been on the previous week's march that had ended in violence. "The videos of those events were completely accurate," she said. But she added that Friday's protest had felt completely different. "Everything I saw today was peaceful and positive. It was delightful," Moore said.
The protest was filled with the usual mix of Occupy Wall Street supporters. But there was also a smattering of people wearing T-shirts with trade union logos as well as ordinary working New Yorkers.

"I am a regular Joe. I have a job and everything," said school social worker Ben Yost, 36. He said that he had come on the march, less to highlight police misbehaviour but, to protest against the finance industry and bank bailouts. "Police brutality is not my top priority right now. I am here to protest against greed and to tax the rich," he said. That split of opinion was also evident in the different placards carried by the marchers. Some were against the police but most were against capitalism or banks. "We have nothing to fear but fear itself and unregulated bankers," read one.

From unpromising beginnings the Occupy Wall Street movement has now become a major American news story. A similar group is set to occupy a square in the financial district of Boston over the weekend and actions are also planned for Los Angeles and Washington DC and other large cities in October. This week several large New York unions have also announced they will be joining the protesters in Zuccotti Park.

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