By MARTY GOODMAN
At 4 a.m. on July 22, hundreds of New York City cops in riot gear descended on Occupy City Hall (OCH), the anti-racist encampment in lower Manhattan inhabited by about 70 protesters and homeless persons.
OCH was demanding that NYPD’s $6 billion budget be cut by at least $1 billion in fiscal 2021. The NY City Council passed a sham $1 billion NYPD budget cut on June 30. After the vote, however, many remained in the park as part of OCH.
On July 22, cops said they gave OCH 10 minutes to vacate, then quickly cleared the park. The NYPD claimed that there were about seven arrests, mostly for failure to disperse and one for throwing a brick at a cop, denting the cop’s shield.
But some protesters disputed that account, saying that they didn’t hear a warning before police poured in. Once inside, cops threw people’s possessions away and pushed them around.
“They tried to run us over with bikes,” Nene Thompkins, a 19-year-old woman living at the camp, told Gothamist. “They pushed us with shields. They told us we couldn’t be on the sidewalk so walk on the street, then as soon as we got on the street they ambushed us.”
One unnamed city official told the press that Mayor Bill de Blasio approved of the attack, long planned by the NYPD.
That evening, dozens OCH supporters held a march downtown in the driving rain to retake City Hall Park, but de Blasio’s cops blockaded entry.
In the process of the attack, cops threw away homeless people’s possessions and camp supplies, which included food and books.
The camp’s homeless reflected the city’s homeless crisis under de Blasio, a product of systemic racism. 80,000 are without a permanent home, including 20,000 children.
Jawanza James Williams, the director of organizing for Vocal New York, told BuzzFeed News that the city was “pressure-washing away the messages of freedom, Black Lives, a world without police and prisons, in the same ways that workers pressure-wash away the spilled blood of Black people murdered by police for now hundreds of years.”
Williams said that even with the diminishing OCH population after the June 30 budget vote, “The activities of political education continued, direct actions outside of the camp continued, celebrations and performances continued, art creation, and cultural production in general.”
OCH took inspiration from the 2011 anti-corporate movement, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) in Zuccotti Park, aka “Liberty Plaza,” located a few blocks from City Hall.
In 2011, the then-Public Advocate, Bill de Blasio, loudly defended the free speech rights of OWS, under attack by billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Also supporting Occupy Wall Street were several unions, including TWU Local 100, NY’s subway and bus workers.
Soon however, Bloomberg teamed up with President Obama and the national police departments to smash Occupy. Mayor Bloomberg used a phony pretense for shutting down OWS, citing “health issues,” despite the regular volunteer cleaning of Zuccotti Park. Bloomberg’s “health issues” were trotted-out once again this past month, this time by de Blasio, as reason to crush OCH.
Although denied by de Blasio, many pointed to the Mayor’s desire to forestall President Trump’s threat to send in federal agents to NYC, a la Portland, as part of the Mayor’s underlying reason to shut down OCH. Trump’s threats were also a possible motive for his week-long curfew in early June, beyond de Blasio’s defense of so-called “property rights” of big chain stores. De Blasio now boasts that he will bring court action against Trump’s federal agents invading NYC.
Whatever the reason, de Blasio boasts that he, “always respect[s] the right to protest,” an assertion proven false by the NYPD’s early morning storming of OCH on June 30 at 5 a.m., the day of the vote on the NYPD budget.
As peaceful OCH protesters chanted, “Why the riot gear? There’s no riot here!,” de Blasio’s goons descended on the park.
“We were dancing in the street one minute, and the next minute they were beating the shit out of us,” Jet, 23, told Gothamist. “It wasn’t human.”
NYPD officers in riot gear rushed protestors, arresting two and injuring several others.
One protester that morning told public radio that he witnessed a young woman break her leg in a barrier, as cops pinned protesters. “They were beating me every way they could, but all I could see was her leg bent in a way it shouldn’t have been.”
But by linking arms and with tremendous bravery, OCH managed to prevent a police rout and held their ground.
Occupy City Hall
Occupy City Hall or Abolition Plaza was located in a park immediately adjacent to NY City Hall. It was founded on June 24 by hundreds of anti-racist activists, including the non-profit VOCAL NY, which demanded a $1 billion cut in next year’s NYPD budget. Some in OCH were calling for abolishing the NYPD.
The NY City Council, dominated by Democrats, passed a $1 billion cut on June 30. The so-called cut, with the backing of the mayor, a self-described “Democratic Socialist,” was a sham, essentially transferring $1 billion to the Education Department to oversee policing in schools. City Comptroller Scott Stringer called the changes in police spending “a bait-and-switch and a paper-thin excuse for reform.”
The budgetary reform, plus police practice reforms recently enacted by the City and State were the ruling class’s panicked reaction to the size and militancy of mass mobilizations. But, in no way can some of these necessary reforms (if ever properly enforced under capitalism!) ever eliminate systemic cop racism, the product of a sick U.S. capitalist system, or more fundamentally, change who has control of the police: the capitalists or the working class and oppressed communities? (“NY Cop Reforms? The Whole System Has to Go!” in July SA)
Socialist Action says, “Disarm, disband and dismantle the racist cops! Black community control of the police!”