Wall Street protesters energized by park decision
NEW YORK (AP) — Anti-Wall Street protesters went into Saturday campaigns emboldened by a change of plans among park property owners and police to usher them out of their lower Manhattan encampment for cleanup and impose restrictions that would have essentially shut down their Occupy Wall Street headquarters.
"We are going to piggy-back off the success of today, and it's going to be bigger than we ever imagined," said protester Daniel Zetah after Friday's announcement that protesters could remain in the park.
Over the past month, the protest against corporate greed and economic inequality has spread from New York City to cities elsewhere across the United States and around the world. Several demonstrations were planned this weekend in the U.S., Canada and Europe, as well as in Asia and Africa.
Supporters in Sydney, Australia, on Saturday waved signs such as "you can't eat money." About 200 people in Tokyo joined the global protests, and Philippine supporters in Manila marched on the U.S. Embassy to express support for Occupy Wall Street and to denounce "U.S. imperialism" and U.S.-led wars and aggression.
The Friday showdown in New York came as tensions rose, with several arrests in many U.S. cities and scattered clashes between demonstrators and police. Zuccotti Park owners planned to temporarily evict the protesters at 7 a.m. so the grounds could be power-washed.
The protesters, their numbers swelled to about 2,000 before daybreak, feared the cleanup was a pretext to break up the demonstration. They vowed to stand their ground.
Just minutes before the appointed hour, park owners Brookfield Office Properties announced it would postpone the cleanup "for a short period of time" at the request of "a number of local political leaders." The company gave no details. Word of the decision brought boisterous cheers from the demonstrators and predictions that it would strengthen the movement in the U.S. and beyond.
In Denver, police in riot gear herded hundreds of protesters away from the Colorado state Capitol early Friday, arresting about two dozen people and dismantling their encampment. In Trenton, N.J., protesters were ordered to remove tents near a war memorial. San Diego police used pepper spray to break up a human chain formed around a tent by anti-Wall Street demonstrators.
In New York City, police arrested 15 people, including protesters who obstructed traffic by standing or sitting in the street and others who turned over trash baskets and hurled bottles. A deputy inspector was sprayed in the face with an unknown liquid.
In one case, an observer with the National Lawyers Guild who was marching with the group refused to move off the street for police, and the tip of his foot was run over by an officer's scooter. He fell to the ground screaming and writhing and kicked over the scooter before police flipped him over and arrested him.
And a video posted online showed a police officer punching a protester in the side of the head on a crowded street. Police said the altercation occurred after the man tried to elbow the officer in the face and other people in the crowd jumped on the officer, who was sprayed with a liquid coming from the man's direction. Police said the man, who escaped and was wanted for attempted assault on an officer, later said in an online interview he's HIV positive and the officer should be tested medically.
A man who identified himself as the protester, Felix Rivera-Pitre, said in a statement posted online that he didn't provoke the officer. "I was just doing what everyone else was doing in the march," he said. "It felt like he was taking his frustrations out on me."
Organizers in Des Moines, Iowa, accepted an offer Friday night from the mayor to move from the state Capitol where they were prohibited from staying overnight to a city park blocks away, averting a possible showdown.
Brookfield, a publicly traded real estate firm, had planned to allow the protesters to return to the park after the cleanup. But it said it would begin enforcing park rules against tents, tarps and sleeping bags, complaining the grounds had become unsanitary and unsafe. The New York Police Department had said it would make arrests if Brookfield requested it and laws were broken.
Overnight Thursday and into the Friday morning darkness, protesters rushed to scrub and sweep the park and pick up trash in hopes of preventing a crackdown. In changing course, Brookfield said it would negotiate with protesters about how the park may be used. But it was unclear when those discussions would occur. Though the park is privately owned, it is required to be open to the public 24 hours a day.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose girlfriend is on Brookfield's board of directors, said his staff was under strict orders not to pressure the company one way or the other. He noted that Brookfield can still go ahead with the cleanup at some point.
"My understanding is that Brookfield got lots of calls from many elected officials threatening them and saying, 'We're going to make your life more difficult,'" he said on his weekly radio show.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron, a Democrat who represents lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, said he had conversations late into the night urging Brookfield's CEO to wait.
"The stakeholders must come together to find a solution that respects the protesters' fundamental rights, while addressing the legitimate quality-of-life concerns in this growing residential neighborhood," Squadron said in a statement.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Patrick Walters in Philadelphia, Patrick Condon in Minneapolis, Mike Householder in Detroit, Colleen Long in New York and Michael J. Crumb in Des Moines, Iowa.