Two days after New York police officers arrested dozens of protesters while breaking up an Occupy Wall Street rally, city council members joined Occupy members in Zuccotti Park to condemn the NYPD's heavy handed tactics.
Largely dormant during the winter months, Occupy Wall Street offered a glimpse of renewed activity with a Saturday demonstration marking the movement's six month anniversary. Protesters said that police officers responded with unnecessary force, pointing to broken bones and a video that appears to show officers neglecting a woman suffering from seizures.
City Council members who have been sympathetic to Occupy Wall Street tied those examples to a broader critique of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly. The NYPD was criticized for its handling of Occupy protests in the fall, and Kelly has since faced scrutiny over over revelations that the NYPD was spying on Muslim Americans and the shooting death of an unarmed drug suspect in the Bronx.
I am here today because Saturday night I saw the New York Police Department using brutal, excessive force arresting people who were protesting peacefully, City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez said at a noon press conference in Zuccotti Park. We are calling on Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly to fight for our constitutional rights as hard as they fight terrorism.
Protestor's Bill of Rights Proposed
Rodriguez said that he has submitted legislation to create a Protester's Bill of Rights that would clarify protections for protesters and the limits of police force. City Council members Jumaane Williams, Melissa Mark-Viverito and Stephen Levin also spoke, opening their remarks by leading familiar chants of We are the 99 percent and all day, all week, Occupy Wall Street.
Occupy Wall Street is a reality in this city, a presence in this city that is here to stay, Mark-Viverito said.
Occupy Wall Street protesters testified about what they called instances of police brutality. A woman named Liesbeth Rab tearfully recounted police officers ignoring their calls for help as Cecily McMillan, the woman who had a seizure, lay on the ground.
We started a movement as a conversation, and we want to continue that conversation, a protester named Aaron Black said. But for some reason we keep getting our heads beat in.
For at least one activist, the solution is getting involved in the political process. George Martinez, a former Democratic district leader and an adjunct professor of political science at Pace University, is challenging Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-.N.Y., whose district encompases parts of Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. Dressed in a charcoal suit with a small Occupy pin on the lapel, Martinez called running for office one tactic for moving our agenda forward.
This issue with the NYPD is a top priority for everyone in this city, and not just because of the normal history of violence towards communities of color, Martinez said. When stop and frisk meets slamming down and beating peaceful protesters, we think it's an explosive situation.