Getting arrested while covering Occupy Wall Street in New York City was the furthest thing from my mind when I packed up my radio gear and loaded my laptop into my knapsack in the early hours of Tuesday morning, but that’s exactly what happened to me. It turns out I was one of several reporters arrested while covering the police sweep of Occupy Wall Street that day.
My experience felt similar to everything I had ever heard about being arrested. The plastic handcuffs were so tight, they cut off the circulation in my hands and left cuts and abrasions on my wrists. The walk to the small, cramped and airless police van was a long one.
Along the way, people took my picture with their cellphones and tweeted it out, with “reporter arrested.” They could tell I was a reporter from the New York Police Department-issued press badge hanging prominently around my neck. In fact, that’s right where it was when police stopped me as I was walking north on Broadway, several blocks past Zuccotti Park. I was recording street sounds with my radio gear and microphone in one hand, cellphone in another and knapsack on my back.
It was a look I had long perfected from covering news in New York for years, including reporting on various aspects of Occupy Wall Street for the last two months. During that time, I not only covered the anti-greed message that protesters said they wanted to get out but also everything from the black presence (including visits by Russell Simmons and Kanye West), to the drug and sexual assault issues at Zuccotti Park, to the complaints by neighbors about noise and vandalism by protesters, to the marches and rallies that led to numerous arrests.
Now I was one of those arrests, sitting in a jail cell in Central Booking, watching countless protesters file in of various ages and races. (Police say they made about 200 arrests.) Many said they were picked up when they wouldn’t heed police orders to vacate the park.
The standoff came after city officials raised health and fire-safety concerns about conditions there. Notices given to protesters told them that the park would be cleaned up and they could return without the tents and other camping gear. Some said they never heard the orders to leave; others said they did but decided to dig in. Still others were arrested blocks away from the park.
The common charge was trespassing and/or disorderly conduct. In my case it was the latter. I was issued a desk-appearance ticket for a later date. Meanwhile, protesters said they plan to continue occupying Zuccotti Park. Tuesday afternoon, a judge in New York ruled that protesters could head back with tents, so that’s what they tried to do, only to find that police would not let them in. Later in the day, another judge ruled against the lower court but is allowing protesters back in, only without the camping gear.
Julie Walker, a freelance reporter in New York, has covered aspects of the Occupy Wall Street movement since the beginning.