Occupy Wall Street activists on Monday called for supporters to skip work on May 1 to protest against alleged police brutality during 73 arrests in New York during the weekend.
Several dozen activists joined members of New York’s City Council for a news conference in Zuccotti Park to complain about police tactics. On Saturday, police started detaining people after hundreds of Occupy supporters gathered in the park to mark six months since the start of the movement.
Occupy organizers across the country have been mobilizing for months toward a one—day general strike in May.
They’re encouraging people to stay out of work and school, and to refrain from spending money. In New York, a coalition of unions and worker justice groups are planning a solidarity march through the city.
Council members at Monday’s news conference included Ydanis Rodriguez, a Manhattan Democrat who denounced police actions, while proposing that the council create a “Protester’s Bill of Rights” to establish basic rights.
“I am here today because Saturday night I saw the New York Police Department using brutal, excessive force arresting people who were protesting peacefully,” Rodriguez told the news conference. “We are calling on Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly to fight for our constitutional rights as hard as they fight terrorism.”
Bloomberg countered that members of the NYPD were respectful of protesters’ rights.
“This police department knows how to control crowds without excessive force,” the mayor said. “They do allow you to protest but they don’t let it get out of hand.”
But Liesbeth Rapp, a 27-year-old activist who was there Saturday, said police “charged” protesters and forced them in groups onto nearby sidewalks.
In tears, Rapp said she ended up next to a young woman who suffered a head injury in the scuffle.
“We were all on the ground, and they were on top of us,” she said. “She was holding her head and screaming.”
Rapp said officers ignored the woman’s call for medical help, and it took more than a quarter of an hour for medics to respond.
It’s hardly the first time Occupy protesters and police have faced off. More than 700 protesters were arrested in October after they swarmed the Brooklyn Bridge. Later the same month in Oakland, an Iraq War veteran suffered a skull fracture from a police projectile.
On Nov. 15, two months after Occupy protesters set up their Zuccotti Park encampment, New York police in riot gear cracked down and began removing them, arresting hundreds of people.
Several days later at the University of California in Davis, campus police officers were caught on video using pepper spray on seated Occupy protesters
Occupy organizers have been clamouring for the May Day general strike as a springtime renewal of their movement. May Day is both an ancient rite of spring fertility and, in modern times, a celebration of the international labor movement. It also has been used to protest various issues.
It’s impossible to gauge the expected response of the strike.
Last November in Oakland, when the Occupy movement was at its height, a daylong general strike resulted in a five-hour protest at the city’s port, the nation’s fifth-busiest. In solidarity, hundreds of Oakland teachers skipped school, leaving too few substitutes to keep some classes running.
Supporters in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and elsewhere held smaller-scale demonstrations.