According to media reports, up to 5000 police have been brought into the city for the Blockupy protests. The entire downtown area north of the river is a police state, centered around the EU Bank tower(map). Most of the scheduled demonstrations have been banned by court order, creating a tense situation as an estimated 30,000 protestors converge on the city.
We arrived to the main transit station yesterday afternoon, immediately noticing fully armed riot squads patrolling in and around the station. A standoff between a few dozen protestors was brewing at the main entrance, with lines of police vans delivering several hundred more officers. The protestors were surrounded by a circle of police who slowly tightened in on the protestors before beginning to arrest them one-by one.
Perhaps the most unusual part of this whole scene was its calm nature, almost as if it was some kind of rehearsal to be followed by a dinner in which the police and protestors would dine and drink together. The arrests happened without handcuffs or scuffles, with the cops just chatting jovially with each protestor as they led them away. As a matter of fact there was barely a single instance of a protestor and a police officer coming into any physical contact at all except for maybe a handshake. The protestors simply lined up to be “arrested” with their ID’s ready in hand.
I must say that Sarah’s joke, “None of this is real”, really struck a chord with me. The transit passengers also played into this rehearsal feel, going about their business as if it was just another day. I witnessed one girl doing what appeared to be her college homework on the ground just few feet away from the police circle. There was not even enough activity to keep the pigeons from gathering crumbs around the police officers’ boots. Old ladies and families with babies reached between the officers’ heads to snap photos.
Maybe, just maybe, such a scene is a precursor to a day when the police will refuse to protect this system which spreads so much death and misery to the rest of the world. The EU Bank tower would after all make a great headquarters for the global revolutionary movement, as would have the World Trade Center. Don’t destroy them, take them over. Every window and bone broken is just another thing we’ll eventually have to spend time and energy fixing.
On Friday, crowds of protestors began to appear just after noon, beating drums and chanting in small numbers at various intersections near the EU Bank tower. The building itself was further out of reach than ever, with several square blocks around it only inhabited by masses of police and their equipment. Lines of bumper-to-bumper parked vans and fully suited riot officers sealed every possible route to the tower. The abandoned Occupy camp at the base of the tower, left fully intact, has now strangely become a kind of command center occupied by only the cops.
The random protestor crowds grew and converged into a group of some 500 people, easily outnumbered by both media and police. At first the police dealt with this “illegal” protest by wrestling a few of the most vocal activists to the ground and carrying them away. This tactic instantly drew a flood of media and the police backed off, but just by a few feet, and continued to follow the crowd.
The next police tactic was to break up the crowd into smaller parts by creating chaos. Lines of riot police came running through the middle of the human mass, causing people to run absurdly in every direction. As the crowd was constantly moving, innocent bystanders were often caught in the middle. At one corner tavern I witnessed sidewalk patrons trampled first by protestors then by police. Parents frantically pulled their children into the tavern, covering them with their bodies. I jumped onto a picnic table as the mass ran past.
Today this police strategy seems to have worked, as the march “leaders” were eventually corralled at an intersection completely sealed off by police. Like yesterday, the protestors simply sat down and were led off one by one without handcuffs. A few did refuse to stand and had to be carried away, but then cooperated fully as soon as they were out of the intersection. We noticed one group of the arrested protestors free just minutes later. Maybe Sarah is right, maybe none of this is real.
Had the numbers of protestors been greater then today’s police strategy would have led to violence, perhaps not just by protestors but by the bystanders whose children were trampled. For at least a few minutes a general panic was brewing in the streets. This seems a very risky operation to arrest a handful of protestors only to release them a few minutes later.
Let’s see what tomorrow brings.