A View from Inside the Overnight Raid and Arrests of Occupy Philly
Around 11 p.m., Fox 29 sent out a Tweet saying a police sweep of Occupy Philly’s Dilworth Plaza space was “imminent.” That made sense. One night earlier I’d asked two police officers if it was worth staying at Dilworth for the night. “Are you guys going to break this up tonight or what?”
One told me they wouldn’t know until the last minute. The other said he and his partner were just “peons…they don’t tell us anything.”
“Yeah, well so am I,” I said. “Why do you think I’m out here waiting for some action?”
“I tell you what,” he said. “Go home, get some rest, and maybe try your luck again tomorrow.”
So, this had to be it. I just hoped I hadn’t missed anything important while I rode my way to Dilworth Plaza. (I didn’t.) It was around 11:15 p.m., and 15-or-so Occupiers moped around the main tent site. Several police vans, as well as those from Fox, ABC and CBS idled on the edge of City Hall.
There were rumors that police had been building up numbers behind the Art Museum, getting ready to move in, but nothing I could really confirm. A parade of bike cops glided by around midnight, and police sedans, lights blaring, drove by a few times. “It’s starting to look like Christmas,” said one Occupier, watching the lights.
Soon, two lanes of Market Street were blocked off and a couple news vans backed up into spaces evidently being provided by those police. I had a conversation with one Occupier who said the Occupy movement is evidence of Jesus Christ’s spirit. We talked about Jesse Jackson and Christmas Village. He said he was willing to get arrested.
I walked over to the fort that I’d witnessed being constructed a day earlier and asked if anyone was inside. One woman was. Did she think the police would raid tonight?
“Cops are comin’?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Cops are comin’,” she said. “I’m getting the fuck out of here.”
She asked if I wanted an interview with her, too. I said sure, but never saw her again.
As the police presence steadily grew, more Occupiers—many familiar faces—began showing up in droves. “Wake up, Occupy Philly!” one chanted as he walked through the tent area. I followed him for a bit, but no one was waking up. Or, more likely, very few were there to be woken up.
Around 12:30 a.m., it looked as though police had circled the entirety of City Hall. But Occupiers were showing up, too. And there finally seemed to be more protesters than press on hand. Captain Fisher of the Philadelphia Police gave the protesters their first warning. If they stayed, they’d be arrested. A few Occupiers grabbed a sign which read “Capitalism is an organized crime,” and brought it to the center of Dilworth Plaza. After the second warning, Occupiers began repeating the law hotline to each other in case of arrest, and writing it down on their arms. The Broad Street Line could be seen below the main plaza area, cordoned off with yellow Caution tape.
As more police showed up, Occupiers began dancing and banging the drums on hand louder and louder. Two SEPTA buses full of police showed up and parked at the Southwest end of City Hall. Those Occupiers planning to get arrested lined up and locked arms.
Fisher said the press needed to vacate, as well, and move to the clothespin. “If we’re gonna take over Rittenhouse,” mic-checked one protester, “now’s a good time.”
One press photographer who I didn’t recognize started screaming at the police about his first amendment right, and how you can’t kick out the press. The third warning was issued and a wave of people ran down the Dilworth stairs, marching south on 15th, toward Rittenhouse Square.
Following them, I turned my head toward the south side of City Hall to see about 100 police lined up in riot gear. What the fuck? I thought. Everyone had already left. What were they for? Two fire trucks showed up. Matt Petrillo and I tried to get in for a closer look and were firmly told to get the fuck out of there and never come back. Dozens of police cars were lined up on the south side of City Hall, too. “Holy shit,” said a passerby as he removed his cell phone from his right ear, “how many cop cars does this city fucking have?”
It has a lot.
The police closed down the sidewalk and a female cop laughed as some protesters told her it was a public sidewalk, they should be allowed to hang out wherever they want on it. She told them they were just trying to cause a scene. Police dismantled tents, one by one, by hand and with these trusty green golf-cart-esque Mars Rover machines. My bike was definitely still in Dilworth Plaza.
Occupy had made their way to Rittenhouse Square, where every entrance was blocked off by mounted police. Deputy Mayor Rich Negrin would later Tweet “Clean up crews heading to Dilworth. The clean up begins shortly.”
At Rittenhouse, there were several mic checks, including one about how the Occupy movement wants to save human beings since oil resources are soon to be lacking (environmentalism) and another about how all the media failed to do our job over the last 50-something or so days while reporting on them. We suck.
The clot of 100 or so people left Rittenhouse Square and began marching and chanting throughout Rittenhouse (the neighborhood), street to street, with no general sense of direction. Or so it seemed.
The people had actually been inching back toward Dilworth Plaza, to get back to their space. As they walked, some began giving little pushes to police. Soon, protesters would scream “Shame” at the police biking behind them on the sidewalk—noting that riding a bicycle off the street is illegal. In provoking fashion, Occupiers locked arms as they marched, making sure police couldn’t get by and starting small scuffles.
At some point, I realized my bike was still in Dilworth Plaza and would probably be swept up with the cleaning crew. I Tweeted Rich Negrin to see if that were the case. He Tweeted me back pretty quick: “You should get your bike.” But police wouldn’t let me near City Hall. I even showed them the Tweet and said I was press, but it was a no-go. My bike may be gone, which sucks.
Occupiers stopped at several points throughout the night—at 16th and Market, between Market and Chestnut on 15th, at 12th and Market, other spots—to mic check and taunt the police.
When the group turned the corner from Market, south on 13th, there were two mounted police waiting for them. The horses were cool. But according to this YouTube clip, at least one Occupier was trampled by one of the animals and had to go to the hospital.
The night wore on and more scuffles between protesters and police erupted in pockets around the general marching area. As they did, all demonstrators around those scuffles raised their hands in the air and began chanting, “This is a nonviolent protest,” which it was. To an extent. Someone poured water on a female officer and a fight broke out around Broad and Vine. A police SUV drove up and four riot-geared police stepped out. One police officer, it was said by one protester, had a penchant for beating up women. When the protest stopped at Suburban station earlier, a member of the crowd claimed he had a knife pulled on him. All night, I kept hearing, “You see that? I just got punched in the face by that cop,” and things of that nature.
There were points on Broad and Vine when I assumed it was going to end. Too many scuffles and fights with police followed by chants of “The whole world is watching” and accusations that the police started the fights. A few arrests occurred there after one protester threw a police officer to the ground then got his ass kicked. The police showed a lot of restraint throughout the night and kept the taunting-back to a minimum. Every time I assumed it was over (here comes the tear gas!), it wasn’t, and the protesters continued marching down a new block.
Both sides taunted. When the group was barricaded by bike cops from Dilworth Plaza to the south, an Occupier repeated a common meme throughout the night: “The police are the 99 Percent,” “They should join us,” (and when that doesn’t work) “Our tax dollars pay your salary.”
“You don’t pay taxes,” said one officer to a protester.
“Yeah, I do,” he retorted.
“You have a job?”
“I have two jobs!” the protester yelled back.
The cop bluntly said he didn’t believe the protester, and insisted while the protester did not pay taxes, he, the police officer, does.
For some reason, call it fatigue, fantasy, or a way to get away from the police, the group began marching north on Broad Street. One lamented that it would be interesting to see the police in neighborhoods where “they’re needed” rather than babysitting the Occupiers. Others said they should go to Temple University and pick up more who will join the march. Still, others disagreed, saying no one in those “99 Percent neighborhoods” wants a bunch of kids marching through at 4:30 in the morning. God, I thought, it’s 4:30 a.m. Why? Two police buses and two sheriff’s office buses slowly followed the group, along with dozens of bike cops, SUVs and police sedans.
They stopped several times, and police began blocking them into corners on the sidewalk. Police had no problem pushing and shoving everyone with those spiky bike gears into our sides as some tried to get by and others stood still. All the while, the question remained the same: “Why is it illegal to stand on a sidewalk?” One girl got in a police officer’s face and said she was going to go the other way—that’s where her ride was—and began trying to get by them, but police blocked her from going south on Broad and instead pushed her to the ground. She was helped up by some other protesters. She asked me if I saw what happened. I said I did. She said she did nothing to provoke such an attack.
“You’re a bunch of fucking animals!” a protester yelled at a police officer along the way.
“Believe me,” said the cop, an older, red-faced Irish looking guy, “I’ve been called worse things by better people.”
The group halted after passing Callowhill. Why were they going this way? someone asked. They should be marching through the 1 Percent neighborhoods in Rittenhouse. One said Occupy Wall Street protesters did just this—walked and walked—for two days after being evicted, and the Philly chapter should do the same. Only two hours to rush hour. The whole thing should be blocked.
A turn west on Spring Garden became a turn south on 15th Street. Bicycle police in the caboose were told to halt while those in front of the protest formed a barricade across 15th, near Hamilton. Bike cops pushed protesters back, separating them into clusters of about 15-20 people.
An older police officer got in the middle of a cluster (the one I was in) and was asked questions like, “Is this the America you thought you’d grow up in?” and “What’s wrong with standing on the sidewalk?”
There was a mic check less than a minute later. A protester yelled, “This asshole [the cop] says we’re gonna get locked up!”
Occupiers told each other to take out their cell phones and cameras to film the police as they made arrests, which were, finally, imminent. A protester yelled at one police officer. He was told to get on the sidewalk. He did. But the police officer began saying things like, “Get further back! Further back!” He grabbed the protester and pushed him into the cluster of people, knocking several of us to the side. “I’m not doing anything,” said the protester. “Get back!” the police officer yelled at him. He kept pushing the protester until he was back up against a brick wall, then pushed him more against a bike.
Arrests began around 5 a.m. When they did, I tried to get out of the cluster to not be mistaken for an Occupier. The bike cops wouldn’t let me. I told Police Captain Fisher I was press and could I get out. “Who are you with?” “Philly Weekly.” An Inquirer reporter, already outside the cluster yelled, “I know him,” and he said, yeah, sure, you can go. When I did a police officer grabbed my wrists and began taking out handcuffs, but Fisher said it was OK, to let me go.
Police later confirmed 44 arrests throughout the night. Mayor Nutter held a press conference about an hour ago commending the police officers for showing restraint, and saying he agreed with some of the Occupiers’ messages. I asked a girl as I was heading out what she thought of how things went. She asked me where I was from. I said Philly Weekly. She said she heard that paper had written negative things about the protest.