By Alyssa Melillo & Michelle Frantino
It is a dark, chilly morning on Cortlandt Street in lower Manhattan. Streetlamps and strings of crimson Christmas lights that hang on the front wall of the Century 21 department store dimly brighten the sidewalks. In the distance, beams of red and blue illuminate the darkness, reflecting on the buildings and blinding oncoming traffic.
A group of people stand before an iron barricade at the corner of the street. Police officers wearing white helmets with transparent face shields stand on the other side of the barrier and across the street next to a police car.
“Why can’t we cross the street?” a man from the group demands. When no officers respond, another man chimes in, “You’re an embarrassment to democracy,” he says. “You’re denying our First Amendment rights.”
Angry, the man, who is wearing a red flannel shirt and thick-framed black glasses, walks away from the street corner and a few feet down the sidewalk.
“They’re just not telling us anything,” he says. “They’re just not talking to us at all. And I’m not gonna stand for it.”
He walks down the street towards the officers, but the men in blue will not let him through. They surround him and grab him forcefully, pushing him onto the hood of a vehicle. He squirms as they attempt to handcuff him and they respond by pushing him down to the ground.
“I’m not resisting,” the man shouts. “I’m not resisting.”
The officers eventually allow him to get up after they cuff him. They bring him over to the police car, leaving behind thick-framed black glasses that now lie cracked in the street.
This is what happened in the streets of Manhattan in the wake of the NYPD’s raid of Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the location where protestors camped out for roughly two months. The sounds of yelling, chanting and sirens filled the air within hours after police removed the occupants and the Sanitation Department disposed of their belongings.
What was meant to be a temporary evacuation for the purpose of cleaning and organizing Zuccotti Park ended in a counterattack by protestors that left lower Manhattan in a flurry of chaos that morning. After a series of arrests by police and unsuccessful attempts made by protestors to get back into the park, the demonstrators marched a few blocks away to Foley Square, a park across from the New York Supreme Courthouse.
In the middle of Foley Square at 7 a.m., all one hears is noise; protestors shouting, police sirens blaring and the hum of helicopters overhead. Anthony Cordoza stood with his phone covering his face, filming it all. Cordoza, a 23-year-old from Queens, joined the protest back in September. He first helped through social networking by setting up Twitter and Facebook accounts for the protest, but soon realized he was needed more for something else. “A movement this big needs its own news media,” he said as he scratched his unkept beard. “We can’t rely on the others to get the information right, or even give and share the information at all.”
So in early October, Cordoza decided he would set up the Occupiers’ own media department by creating a live news feed. Protestors in Zuccotti Park knew that it was only a matter of time before the city officials would intervene or even force them out.
“The media hasn’t been portraying us truthfully,” he said. “They either tell half-stories or don’t share both sides to the story.”
Cordoza said he wanted the world to be able to witness the protestors’ side. Three iPhones were all that was needed to project a live broadcast to thousands of people around the world.
“When I posted the link to the feed on Twitter,” Cordoza said, “I was re-tweeted by over 10,000 people.”
Cordoza carefully stepped over people curled up in sleeping bags as he filmed Foley Square. He interviewed a woman who said a police officer dragged her by her hair from the park and a man who was struck in the face by a nightstick.
The Occupiers all looked into the camera of the iPhone and told the people watching that the NYPD violated their First Amendment rights; that this is not “what Democracy looks like”—a phrase that had been repeatedly chanted in Zuccotti Park just a few days earlier.
“I’m doing this because sadly, the news media has failed us,” Cordoza said. “We don’t trust them to get our side out there, so we resort to these iPhones; our only way to share our story with the world.”
Cordoza filmed a news anchor standing on the sidewalk of Foley Square. He turned the camera on himself and said, “Well folks, this is what reporting looks like—standing in front of a group of protestors, speculating about ours plans instead of talking to us, asking us questions. See? Our side doesn’t matter.”
Amid the clean air and bright morning sun that enveloped Foley Square, protestors took refuge on the pavement of the park. With nothing but the clothes on their backs, people gathered to regroup, reorganize and comfort one another.
Like troops marching back from battle, the protestors flooded the park. They lied across the marble statues that stand in Foley Square. Tired, hungry and some hurt, they rested.
“Anyone injured?” yelled a man. “Anyone need help?”
Kevin Schulman walked along the perimeter of the park as he shouted into the crowd. “Medic here,” he said. “Anyone need help?”
Schulman is one of four people who is part of the medical team, organized and in charge of Zuccotti Park. The graduate student, hoping one day to be a doctor, has been taking care of injured protestors since September.
“I am part of the 99 percent,” he said, “and when I heard I have a skill that could be of help to these people, I came running.”
The Ohio native said that when the police first started raiding Zuccotti Park, he was not concerned about his personal objects being taken, or even his own health; he was concerned about everyone else: his friends and the people he has been taking care of for the past three months.
“When I first realized what was going on, I reached for my medical kit. I knew from the first few minutes of the raid that I was going to need it.”
Schulman said the first few minutes after the NYPD invaded the park were all a blur to him. He only remembers the sounds of people shouting and blaring sirens.
“I was in the middle of it all, 30 people deep,” Schulman said. “I felt like I was drowning.”
Although the chaos around him was slowly worsening, he remained calm.
“I helped anyone I saw on the floor,” he said. “Helped the people who were rubbing their eyes, and crying from being pepper sprayed.”
Schulman said he did what he could with his makeshift first aid kit, a small cooler with a cross made out of red electrical tape on it.
“The injuries were mostly minor, but there were too many to count,” he said. “A lot of pain for no good reason.”
The protestors then moved their occupation to the corner of 6th and Canal Street at 9 a.m. There they sat on a wall and held up a long, bright yellow banner that read “Occupy Wall St.” Some held signs of that same color that stated, “I will never pay off my debt” and “I will never pay off my college loans.”
Spectators crowded the sidewalks in front of and across the street from the protestors. Police officers lined the streets. People began to hand out fliers for the movement’s ‘Day of Action,’ November 17.
The number of police officers grew as time went on. Their uniforms created a sea of navy blue.
For the rest of the day, the protestors stayed at that corner. Police made more arrests and even started arresting reporters.
The future of Occupy Wall Street is uncertain. Later that Tuesday, a judge ordered that protestors cannot camp out at Zuccotti Park overnight, and sleeping bags and tents are prohibited. Aside from the Day of Action, two days later, when over 200 people were arrested and many were injured, the movement has not progressed.