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The Return of Occupy: Beaten, but Not Down

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You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.  ~Pablo Neruda

My head hurts.

Three months after my arrest during an Occupy Wall Street protest on #D17, and two days away from my meeting with the Assistant DA about said arrest, I got beaten just outside of Zuccotti Park.

I wasn’t the only one, and I have no doubt I won’t be the last. The NYPD has complete authority in this town. I hate using the term “police state,” but when I saw a girl thrown from a bus and tossed to the ground, in handcuffs, having a seizure, I really am at a loss for any other words.

This time I had press credentials. It still didn’t matter.

Six months ago, I was standing by the Wall Street Bull, talking with Allison Kilkenny, complaining that this ‘Occupy Wall Street’ thing wasn’t going to last. I mean, they were doing yoga in the park. It made for some great photos, but not the best images for the start of a serious movement. Then there were the rumors on Twitter and Facebook that there were tens of thousands of people there. Unfortunately, there were not.

Now, six months later, I’m standing on the top of Zuccotti Park looking down at more than 500 protestors as they started stringing up a bright yellow banner that read “OCCUPY WALL ST.”

I was wrong, and never happier to be so.

In the past 6 months, I’ve been thrown in front of a moving police car, threatened with arrest, told to “go f**k off” by police, threatened by black bloc and then arrested, and thrown in jail – charged with criminal trespassing.


After 10 years of covering well organized protests by the corporate entities of and UFJP – a rag tag group of kids called Occupy Wall St. has made me lose my cynicism. Maybe one day I’ll sit down and write about how it changed me as a journalist, a photographer and as a person who gives a shit, but those things are meant to be written about long after the movement is dead. OWS is alive and well.

But Saturday night,  #M17, was of a different sort. This was pure brutality. It reminded me of the night of the cleansing, and it was all started by a bagpipe troupe.

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Man, I wish I was kidding.

Out of the blue, a bagpipe troupe appears at the bottom of the park – a French bagpipe troupe from Brittany, to be exact.

The moment we see this, we all converge on them – the photographers (of course) leading the way – but it seems that the police were already on to the sneaky terrorist bagpipers and had tried to put a stop to their activities. According to one officer that I asked, it was due to a “safety concern.” Well, like most things at OWS – the NYPD made it a safety concern – ripping the lead bagpipers bagpipe from his hands, breaking it.

The kid, whose pipe got broken was no more than 19 years old, and ran away from the crowd distraught and afraid. He had no clue what was happening – he didn’t speak English. The police decided not to let it rest, and continued to try to push the troupe out of the park, in a nicer way than they would have with OWS, but still with the heartlessness that can only live in the chest of the NYPD.

Then suddenly fellow shooter-in-arms CS Muncy and I turn around at the same moment, and see what the plan is. The police are coming in from the other side of the park – barricades were being brought in and dozens of police were preparing to descend.

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Protestors who were preparing all night for this eventuality were ready though, and ready for a fight. And by “ready for a fight,” I mean they were peacefully sitting down, arms locked, in the middle of the park singing and chanting, clearly, asking for a beating.

And that’s what many of them got.

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A dozen of so of the more enterprising and courageous occupiers had rolled out their secret weapon, orange netting with #OWS printed on it. They were prepared to kettle themselves.

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This sly mocking seemed to just arouse contempt, and the jack booted thugs moved forward en masse, batons in hand. They were going to have this park cleared, their corporate betters, Brookfield Asset Management had sent them their order.

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The park must be cleaned. Yes, it must be cleaned on St. Patrick’s Day in the dark – no doubt an annual tradition.

Technically still out on my own recognizance from my previous arrest, my plan was to not do anything stupid. Well, that was before my ‘fight or flight’ adrenaline started kicking in. If you follow me on twitter (@zdroberts) you know 9 time out of 10, I put my head down and rush in.

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The police continued to push forward, step by step, shoulder to shoulder, making sure that not a single protestor – or press for that matter, who are supposed be able to cross police lines, got by. Dozens of arrests, reports of several beatings, a bruised rib, and again not a single violent response from the occupiers later, the park was cleared.

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This small park made of brick, once named Liberty, which has become a symbol for free speech amongst the occupiers, and amongst many of us in the press, once again became “Zuccotti.”

From here, it’s all down hill.

The occupiers scattered, the zip cuffed protestors laid face down on the cold brick, dragged, walked or carried towards top of the square, where soon a public transit bus (MTA) would carry them away.

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It would be a while though. There was enough time to see more abject cruelty and disdain for the pain of the arrested protestors.

I saw a protestor, no more than 115 pounds picked up by two NYPD cops and chucked face down into a pile of the other arrestees – she was 4 feet in the air when they launched her.

I saw a two officer’s, one female, pick up a metal barricade and slam it into a crowd of people that included protestors, myself and The Guardian’s Laurie Penny. The female officer seem to have it in for Penny.

I saw several protesters dare to stand up, quickly tackled and kneed in the back – many of them women half the size of the officer kneeling on their spine.

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I saw a girl all in green tossed/dropped out of the doorway of the bus that they tried to place her on until she started having a seizure.

Cameras documented it. Here’s one of the photos I took. I can tell you from being there that there wasn’t a single police officer with a look of concern on their face as she continued having a seizure on the cold pavement of Broadway.

It took 15 minutes for a ambulance to arrive. I’m told 5 minutes is the usual response time in this part of town.

Sometimes I forget – this is Commissioner Ray Kelly’s city. We’re just tenants here.

There was no ambulance needed for me. I was lucky… or maybe just stupid.

After the second cleansing of Zuccotti Park, the police continued their pushback under the guise of ‘safety concerns’ – basically a standard operating procedure to keep protesters and journalists from being allowed to witness arrests and to disperse the crowd in different directions.

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It works quite well – that is, until it doesn’t. The thing is, when you’re pushing back with billy clubs and metal barricades, sometimes people can’t move back quick enough. Or sometimes, people refuse to move from a public sidewalk. As a photographer, I get caught in the middle quite often – usually I’m deft enough to get out of the way – this time I wasn’t.

I fell back, and while trying to get up – there was another push from the police – they saw me fall, mind you. Just didn’t care.

Two or three people made it over me without falling as well, using me as their sidewalk (they didn’t have any other choice) – but then came the rush – four or five people fell on top of me.

The police kept pushing. Then came the batons. I couldn’t see if the people that were on top of me previously got hit at all but I certainly did, twice to the back and once on the head.

I’m not quite sure what the logic is of literally beating a man when he’s down. But once he saw that his baton beating wasn’t getting me going he decided to try to pick me up by my hair. That didn’t work either – but by then I was up enough to get my footing under me as I continued screaming “PRESS!!! PRESS!!!” That was enough to get the beating to stop – and I was pushed/thrown back into the crowd, again almost losing my footing as I had to leap over a pile of garbage, and into the street. Being in the street was, of course, a crime itself, so I was once a again thrown back on the sidewalk.

Press tags nearly torn off, bag strap messed up, I staggered out of the crowd towards a building’s stoop (somewhat ironically, a Starbucks). Checking my bag and camera for any serious damage, not finding any, I then looked over myself. No visible bruises. It seemed to be a miracle that I came out somehow unscathed. It wasn’t until I I got back to the Palast office that I found the growing welt on the side of my head like some Looney Toons character that had just been hit by an anvil.

Once I caught my breath, I called my office, reported in, and told them what happened. Greg and Badpenny tried to get me to come in and file the photos. I told them, no, I had to see this out to the end. I was pissed, and I wasn’t going to let them get away with anything else – it was nearing the time when the press goes home to file before the papers are put to bed.

Also I knew that the Occupiers wouldn’t let this rest… this night wasn’t over just because they lost the park.

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This is New York City, there are many parks…. why Union Square, in fact, was only a quick 20 blocks away. It was 3:00 in the morning, the weather was nice, the streets were clear from traffic and the cops were busy elsewhere – perfect time for a run straight up Broadway. And so we did – running on the sidewalk, running in the street.


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Zach D Roberts is Multi-Media Editor for TheMudFlats.neta photo-journalist for,  and for



16 Responses to “The Return of Occupy: Beaten, but Not Down”
  1. juneaudream says:

    First..we each will our own neighborhoods..alert, evaluative..and..sifting..the news from near and far. Looking for the kernals..that we will hope..and inner gut..tells us..what is better..for the long haul. Those in the headline news..jerk us into Those on the..frontlines..fight for the education..of us all. I know people in law enforcement..and I give to the local Occupy. It is a dance my friends..a slow..and hurtful dance..that humankind must do. We ..Emerge from the we have..for years beyond measure. So then..step outside and see where a wise-tenderness..on your part..may..spread genuine health.

  2. Baker's Dozen says:

    It looks like a suit is being filed against my city because they allowed “occupy Apple” as people camp outside overnight waiting to ipads, and “occupy Theater” when they were waiting for a movie, but arrest the “occupy Town” people.


  3. bonefish says:

    Ed Brayton has been saying that there is a serious problem with law enforcement and has been saying that for years. OWS is stirring the muck from the bottom of the pond.
    Zach, thank you for sticking in there.Stay safe, if possible.

  4. Moose Pucky says:

    Holy c**p, Zach. We so appreciate your reporting on this. Why is this happening in our country? Apparently Occupy is effective, if it is stirring up that much response from law enforcement. Makes one want to ask many, many questions about our democracy. The answers are not looking pretty.

  5. Ripley in CT says:

    Excellent work Zach, albeit quite dangerous. Who would have though that shooting photos in NYC would be as dangerous as a foreign country?

    Stay safe.

  6. Writing from Alaska says:

    Very sadz – but interested in how one is nearly killed by the People’s Library. Eagerly awaiting more.

  7. AKMuckraker says:

    I am working on the photo issue. Hopefully it will be corrected soon. There’s a fix… It’s just time consuming.

    • Zyxomma says:

      Thanks. Most of the photos are displaying. It’s quite a story. There was another protest yesterday, a joint “million hoodie march” for Trayvon Martin, and Occupy.

      • Moose Pucky says:

        These comments from Trayvon’s girlfriend who was talking on cellphone with Trayvon at the time of the incident indicates he didn’t even put up the hood on his sweatshirt until he was being followed/stalked.

        “He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man,” Martin’s friend said. “I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run but he said he was not going to run.”

        Eventually he would run, said the girl, thinking that he’d managed to escape. But suddenly the strange man was back, cornering Martin.

        “Trayvon said, ‘What, are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again and he didn’t answer the phone.”

  8. akglow says:

    I am having the same problem, not all of the photos are displaying. That being said, WOW, what a story. I have to wonder what a lot of the people in the police department think? Just doing their job? Too much testosterone in their coffee? Always wanted to beat up a “hippie” (though the protesters are from all walks of life). Not really sure how they can reconcile their actions at the end of the day.

  9. Elstun W. Lauesen says:

    Zach…this is a great piece. Thank you. It makes me almost feel ashamed that I spend so much time making a living and not enough time working for change.. That is a compliment–you make me want to be a better citizen…

  10. same problem here, on my non-rental…

  11. Zyxomma says:

    Zach’s pictures are not displaying (I’ve seen a few of them already), so this doesn’t have the impact it should. Maybe it’s just the rental computer I’m using, or maybe this needs a techie to fix it.

    • Zyxomma says:

      I’ve got my Mac back, and the bottom nine pictures are not there. Just empty rectangles with blue question marks within.

      The photos I CAN see are excellent, as is the text.

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