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Inside Occupy Wall Street Raid: Eyewitnesses Describe Arrests, Beatings as Police Dismantle Camp

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The Democracy Now! team rushed down to Zuccotti Park in the middle of the night to report on the police crackdown on Occupy Wall Street. We were there until the early hours of the morning, witnessing the arrests in the streets in Lower Manhattan and the dismantling of the encampment — and the hauling away protesters’ belongings. “They can’t pull wool over our eyes. They can’t put nothing in our eyes that’s going to blind [us to] what’s going on here. And the same goes for all the people who are out there,” a protester told Democracy Now! after the police twice pepper-sprayed him in the face. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Last night, the Democracy Now! team rushed down to Zuccotti Park to cover the police crackdown. It began just after 1:00 a.m. We were there until the early hours of the morning, coming in to do this broadcast. We witnessed the arrests in the streets and made it into the square just as police were dismantling the tents, as well as sanitation workers, and hauling away protesters’ belongings in dump trucks. This is our report.

PROTESTERS: We are the 99 percent! You are the 99 percent!

AARON MATÉ: Tell us your name, if you want to, and then what happened.

ALEX HALL: My name is Alex Hall. And I basically heard a tip from reporters. They were outside the park about an hour before it happened. And we asked them, “Hey, what’s going on?” And they said that cops were planning on, you know, clearing the whole park out.

So, you know, an hour later, they basically surrounded the park, at least 100 to 200 cops, and with the shields on there across their faces. And they basically put up—they put up huge beams of light into the park, on every side. They had about three beams on every side of the park. Got super bright. And they came with a loudspeaker. There was a ton of them, at least 100 to 200. And they lined up in front of the park, on all sides of the park, where they lined up in the front, on Trinity Avenue. And they came with the loudspeaker. They said, “Listen, we’re going to need you guys to clear the park. We’re going to take out the tents and get the sanitation team in here. And you can come back to the park without your tents. You won’t be able to have your tents in the park.”

And they basically started pushing people. They started tearing down tents. They started to break them down, and without even checking if anybody was in the tents. But they started pushing everybody around. Every—

AARON MATÉ: Without checking if anybody was inside the tents, they started just breaking them down?

ALEX HALL: They basically started pulling them and stepping on them, yeah. And everybody started to leave the park. And this is where we are, basically. Everybody kind of rushed out. They started pepper-spraying people. I got—I have milk here. I actually was helping somebody get the spray out of their eyes. And this is where we are right now.

POLICE OFFICER 1: Please clear the street and the sidewalk!

AARON MATÉ: Where are we supposed to go? Where do we go?

POLICE OFFICER 2: Don’t block the street.

POLICE OFFICER 1: Keep the area closed so pedestrians and vehicles can go.

AARON MATÉ: There was a confrontation over here. So now we’re still on the sidewalk, and police are pushing these protesters back. They told us to get off the street, so people complied, and now we’re being pushed further and further away from Zuccotti Park, from Liberty Plaza, where just moments ago protesters were cleared.

Hey, Hero. What’s going on?

HERO VINCENT: We’re sitting here. They’re trying to block us. They’re pushing us to the wall. I got pepper-sprayed straight in the face. You see, I’m still looking. They can’t stop me. They can’t stop us. This is a sign. He pepper-sprayed me, straight like that. You see this? You see this? Twice. Twice I’m pepper-sprayed, and I’m still looking at you, [inaudible] and clear. Sure and clear, I’m still staring at you. That’s a sign that they can’t stop us, that we all see what’s really going on and that they can’t blind us. They can’t pull wool over our eyes. They can’t put nothing in our eyes that’s going to blind what’s going on here. And the same goes for all the people who are out there.

AARON MATÉ: Where were you when the police first moved in?

HERO VINCENT: I was two blocks away, two blocks away, didn’t know what was going on. And then I got a phone call. “Where are you at? We’re being raided.” So I had to run, to this, straight into this.

AARON MATÉ: And what do you tell people right now?

HERO VINCENT: What do I tell people? That this is ridiculous. Soon, soon, we’re coming back. They’re not leaving. That’s—get that straight right now. We’re not going nowhere. A lot of us is going to be here overnight. A lot of us will be here for the rest of the week. A lot of us will be here until the new year comes. A lot of us will be here ’til we see a new day, and that will—you can quote me on that.

AARON MATÉ: So tell me what happened.

PROTESTER 1: I was standing on the outside of the crowd. They started really beating up on this girl pretty badly with their riot shields. And while people tried to pull her out, they sprayed pepper spray like directly into this little clump of people. I was right on the side, but I’m OK.

AARON MATÉ: So what’s going on now is a familiar scene. We’re getting pushed farther and farther away from Zuccotti Park. At every block, police are saying to protesters, “You have the choice to be arrested or move further and further away.”

POLICE OFFICER 3: You’ve got to move right now, or you’re going to be arrested! If you don’t move out of here right now, you’re going to be arrested.

AARON MATÉ: Where do they move to? Where do they move to?

POLICE OFFICER 3: Let’s go! Let’s go! Push this out! Push this out!

AARON MATÉ: So, this commanding officer right here, telling everyone to push people further away. Now looks like everyone on the inside here is going to be—is going to be arrested. Look, somebody arrested right in front of me.

PROTESTERS: Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!

AARON MATÉ: So now we’re back where we started off, a block from Zuccotti Park. When we got here, there were throngs of demonstrators, protesting the raiding of Zuccotti Park, Liberty Plaza. They were pushed further and further away. Activists that were on the sidewalk were told to keep moving down. And they were asking, “Where should we go?” And they were just told to move. What we witnessed was a very forceful interaction, with police even refusing to tolerate activists staying on the sidewalk. Obviously wanted to get people as far away from Zuccotti Park as possible. And so now we’re seeing these trucks behind us pulling away. They have arrested many people. And so, as we tried to come back here to this area, just a block from Zuccotti Park, we spoke to one of the activists that had been arrested.

Hey, tell me what happened.

ARRESTED PROTESTER: I was being pushed and shoved, and I had no way to move. And the lady firsthand singled me out and pinned me down and said, “Her. Arrest her.” Pushed me facedown into the sidewalk, and now I’m arrested.

PROTESTERS: New York, Cairo, Wisconsin! Push us down, we’ll rise again!

AARON MATÉ: So tell us what happened.

PROTESTER 2: It’s your typical break-up of any protest, some a bit more peaceful done than a little bit others. I mean, bottom line is, during the day, the officers started—ended up putting on their gear—kind of first inquiry that something might happen. Then all of the vendors that were around shut up and closed like any other given day, like they were all closing up, but they all did it at once. Something was going on. Next thing you know, we’re told to leave the park. Fliers are being handed out, tell us the reasons of which why and that the tents got to go, grab our belongings, vacate as quickly as possible. Then the bullhorn started coming on. People started—the announcements started coming. If you’re going to go, go ahead and go. If you’re going to stand and you’re going to hold our ground, they’re going to be in the kitchen area. So they all are in a soft lock arm right now.

AARON MATÉ: How many are in there right now?

PROTESTER 2: I’m going to say there’s roughly about, give or take, 250.

AARON MATÉ: Protesters. Then how many police?

PROTESTER 2: I’m going to say there’s maybe three police officers, at least, for every protester.

AARON MATÉ: And tell us what you saw with the tents. We were hearing that police had announced they were coming in to clear the tents.

PROTESTER 2: From my visual observations, from what I can tell, simply, they would push in a little bit—sorry—they would push in a little bit, and they would start ripping tents out.

PROTESTER 3: The NYPD has no idea what they’ve done. This is—this is the worst possible action they could have taken before the anniversary, because this is either going to sway in different—this is definitely going to sway in different people. And that’s what it boils down to. Everyone who is out there that saw this on TV and said it was no big deal and that we were just goofing around, do you think the NYPD would have destroyed our camp if we were just goofing around, if we weren’t some sort of threat to them? We are a health and safety risk? We have doctors and medics in there assessing the situation at all times. If there was any health or safety risk, we would have handled it. We had our own—we have our own fire department. We have our own security team. We have our own medic team—certified EMTs, doctors and nurses, ready to help. Sanitation crews, cleaning the park 24/7, they never stop. We were never a health or safety risk, nor were we a fire hazard. Every tent, almost every tent, had a fire extinguisher in them. So, don’t believe their lies.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to George, who’s locked down in the park right now. Can you tell us how many people are there? This is Amy from Democracy Now!, by the way. So, and just say then—tell us everything that is happening. We’re recording what you’re saying. Just one sec. Go ahead.

GEORGE: My name George [inaudible]. I’m in the park right now. I am in the kitchen right now. The cops have arrived in the kitchen. OK, there’s about maybe 150 to 200 surrounding us in the kitchen. Our chanting going on. They’ve cut down some trees [inaudible].

AMY GOODMAN: So, what’s happened with the tents, and have people locked arms?

GEORGE: Yes, people have locked arms around us in the kitchen. And then, [inaudible] behind the people locked [inaudible] and people locked around—lock their arms [inaudible] I think behind when the people locked arms [inaudible].

AARON MATÉ: All right, so now we’re right in front of these dump trucks that are taking away protesters’ belongings. They have dismantled the tents. And we’ve seen these lines of police just throwing away the belongings of protesters. And now, this one right here in front of us is full to the brim. It’s packed with protesters’ belongings.

MATT BALDWIN: The cops are beating people!

LIZ BALDWIN: They are beating people!

AARON MATÉ: What’s going on? What’s going on?

MATT BALDWIN: The police are beating the people with billy clubs now—

LIZ BALDWIN: The police are beating up. They are ripping them down.

MATT BALDWIN: —who are chain-linked. The people are chain-locked like this. The cops are beating them with billy clubs.

LIZ BALDWIN: They’re beating them with sticks! They’re dragging them!

MATT BALDWIN: And they’re coming in, and they’re jabbing them with poles and beating them with billy clubs.

LIZ BALDWIN: They’re not—they’re not giving up.

MATT BALDWIN: And they’re dangerous. They’re hitting women. They’re hitting children. They’re hitting everyone.

AARON MATÉ: Talk about what you saw. Talk about what you saw.

MATT BALDWIN: Talk about it? Yeah, it’s police—it’s police abuse. They’re abusing the people in there right now.

LIZ BALDWIN: They’re abusing!

MATT BALDWIN: They’re abusing their rights. They said, “Oh, you’re subject to arrest.” But he was subject to get your head smashed in? Are you subject to get killed? How far are they going to go?

LIZ BALDWIN: We know our rights. We know our rights.

MATT BALDWIN: How far are they going to take it?

AARON MATÉ: Are you a medic?

MATT BALDWIN: And everything I had was in my tent.

LIZ BALDWIN: We were going to stay, until they started beating people.

MATT BALDWIN: They say I can pick it up here. They put it in garbage trucks. My property. The city better reimburse me. I got receipts for my property. City better reimburse me.

AARON MATÉ: What did they take of yours? What did they take?

MATT BALDWIN: They took everything me and my wife own. Everything.

REPORTER 1: What’s your name? What’s your name?

MATT BALDWIN: My name is Matt.

REPORTER 2: Matt, what’s your last name?

MATT BALDWIN: Baldwin. This is my wife Liz.

AARON MATÉ: Where are you from?

MATT BALDWIN: I’m from Boston. My wife’s from Philly. We married and live here. We had trouble getting housing, so we decided to join this. We had a big—and work. I couldn’t get work, so we couldn’t get housing.

AARON MATÉ: So, Amy, we’re walking through this rubble here of this encampment.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re walking along the encampment. There are hundreds of riot police inside. There was a report of pepper spray. People came out, said that some of the people were being beaten. And we’re standing in the midst of the encampment rubble.

AARON MATÉ: And we’re seeing no other journalists here. We’re right in front of where police have surrounded the remaining protesters. We’re told there’s about 200 to 300 inside. They’ve locked arms, refusing to leave. We can see them now.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re amongst the sanitation workers, and they’re taking all of the tents and other paraphernalia into their garbage trucks right now. Although they said that they could come and pick up their tents somewhere else later tomorrow, this doesn’t look like this is going to be something that’s picked up.

AARON MATÉ: Right here is a bookshelf, it looks like, in this rubble.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, one of the permanent installations at Zuccotti Park has been the People’s Free Library, and it has thousands of books. I don’t know if this is one of the bookshelves that was the free library.

AARON MATÉ: Here’s somebody’s suitcase. So these are the belongings of people. They’ve been told to come pick it up at a police site tomorrow.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s going happen with all this stuff?

AARON MATÉ: Where are you taking this stuff?

SANITATION WORKER 1: I guess to the dump.

AARON MATÉ: Wait, say that again? Say that again?

SANITATION WORKER 2: Don’t say “dump.”

AARON MATÉ: Say that again?

SANITATION WORKER 2: Don’t say “dump.”

AARON MATÉ: You’re taking it to the dump?

So, now, here we are, walking through. We’ve made it onto the plaza, and we’re approaching this kitchen area, the center of the plaza, where the remaining protesters have locked arms and refusing to leave.

AMY GOODMAN: I just picked up a book. It’s Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley. One of the proudest institutions in the park is the free library. It’s not clear if this is what it’s from.



POLICE OFFICER 4: You’ve got to get out of here.


AARON MATÉ: We wanted to try to talk to a few people that are still locked inside to see what they’re saying.

POLICE OFFICER 4: Sir? Sir, please. All right? You’ve got to please exit.


POLICE OFFICER 4: All right? This way. This way, Ma’am.

AARON MATÉ: So now we’re walking in what used to be the area where the tents were. You can see it’s totally clear. There’s nothing here anymore. It’s all been dismantled. Police are still breaking things down and throwing them into trucks, into garbage bins. But this right here, just, you know, a few hours ago, this is where all these tents were. This is where people were sleeping for nearly two months. The two-month anniversary is this Thursday. And now, it’s all been reduced to rubble. It’s people’s belongings on the ground. Here’s someone’s glove. Here’s some food. Here’s a little box that says—it’s a take on the Bank of America logo. It says, “Bank of No Social Value.” And now it’s all being taken away.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the corner of Zuccotti Park, surrounded by garbage trucks, by police buses, by riot police and by sanitation workers. They are clearing out this park. Word came out, oh, just around 1:00 this morning. People did not have much time. A number of people have handed us this piece of paper, which was the eviction notice, that says, “Notice of requirement to remove property from Zuccotti Park.” What it claims is that the people will be able to return in a few hours without tarps and without tents. But people are locked down right now. We are being told we have to go across the street.

So here we are, standing on the southwest corner of the park. As you can see, scores of sanitation workers are dumping the detritus of democracy into their garbage trucks. When we asked what they’re doing with them, they said they’re bringing it to the dump. And yet, in this eviction notice that was served, it says, on behalf of the owner of the property, Brookfield Properties, and the City of New York—I wonder, by the way, if Brookfield Properties has a note—you know, the famous line, “Produce the note, if you own this place,” that has to do with foreclosures. But at the end of this, it says, “If you fail to immediately remove your property, we will do so and transport it to the Department of Sanitation parking garage at 650 West 57th Street, where you will be able to recover it as of noon today with proper identification.” And yet, as we look across the street at the scores of sanitation workers, who are dumping the property into garbage trucks, it is hard to believe that anyone will be able to recover their belongings. What we see in front of us is democracy’s debris.

AMY GOODMAN: That report, with Aaron Maté, Hany Massoud, Ryan Devereaux, Mike Burke and Jon Gerberg. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.

The one thing I was able to pick up from the grounds of Zuccotti Park was a book that had not yet been thrown into the dump truck, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World Revisited. On the back, it says, “When the novel Brave New World” — now an established classic — “first appeared, in 1932, its shocking analysis of a scientific dictatorship seemed a projection into the remote future.” It goes on to say, “However, today the science of thought control has raced far beyond the totalitarian dreams of Hitler and Stalin. Numerous methods for curtailing individual freedoms have been developed, and the pressures to adopt them are increasingly powerful. Here, in one of the most important, fascinating and frightening books of his career, Aldous Huxley scrutinizes these and other threats to humanity and explains why we may find it virtually impossible to resist them. This book is a plea that humanity should educate itself for freedom before it is too late.” Just reading the jacket off of Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley, that was strewn at Zuccotti Park, just missed by the sanitation workers dumping the property of the protesters.

Our senior producer Mike Burke is here with us right now just to give us an update. And Mike, as we’re talking, Mayor Bloomberg is having a news conference, and he says just about 200 people have been arrested.

MIKE BURKE: Right. Mayor Bloomberg, he also defended the raid last night. He said that the First Amendment protects speech, but it does not protect tents. And he also questioned the court ruling that we heard from earlier today that is allowing protesters back into the park. As we speak, there are a number of flash points right now in Lower Manhattan. Hundreds of protesters have been gathering in Foley Square for the past several hours. Many of them marched to City Hall to protest outside of Mayor Bloomberg’s press conference. At 9:00 a.m., there is a large rally at Sixth Avenue and Canal Street. And we’ve also received word that the park is now officially reopened. So hundreds of protesters are reconvening inside the park. So, it’s going to be a very interesting day in Lower Manhattan.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of it being on this day, about 1:00 in the morning, this surprise raid on the park? The significance of the big day that people were preparing for?

MIKE BURKE: Well, this was the 59th day of Occupy Wall Street. Thursday, November 17th, of course, marks the beginning of the third month of the protest movement, and there are mass actions across New York and across the entire country to mark the anniversary.

AMY GOODMAN: And the plans for that day now? Very interesting to see the woman, the medic, who said this means Thursday is going to be particularly big.

MIKE BURKE: Right. I mean, if you look at what happened, you know, six weeks ago after the Brooklyn Bridge protest, where the police arrested 700 people, the Occupy movement just grew, I think, significantly after that police crackdown. And I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we saw this really as a turning point for the movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course, we will continue to cover this. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we turn to the Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy. The great writer who wrote The God of Small Things has come to the United States, has spent time at Occupy Wall Street, will address a People’s University at NYU, outside, on Wednesday. Stay with us.

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Arundhati Roy: Occupy Wall Street is “So Important Because It is in the Heart of Empire”

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