In a tense showdown above the East River, the police arrested more than 700 demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street protests who took to the roadway as they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday afternoon.
The police said it was the marchers’ choice that led to the enforcement action.
“Protesters who used the Brooklyn Bridge walkway were not arrested,” Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the New York Police Department, said. “Those who took over the Brooklyn-bound roadway, and impeded vehicle traffic, were arrested.”
But many protesters said they believed the police had tricked them, allowing them onto the bridge, and even escorting them partway across, only to trap them in orange netting after hundreds had entered.
“The cops watched and did nothing, indeed, seemed to guide us onto the roadway,” said Jesse A. Myerson, a media coordinator for Occupy Wall Street who marched but was not arrested.
A video on the YouTube page of a group called We Are Change shows some of the arrests.
Around 1 a. m., the first of the protesters held at the Midtown North Precinct on West 54th Street were released. They were met with cheers from about a half-dozen supporters who said they had been waiting as a show of solidarity since 6 p. m. for around 75 people they believed were held there. Every 10 to 15 minutes, they trickled out into a night far chillier than the afternoon on the bridge, each clutching several thin slips of paper – their summonses, for violations like disorderly conduct and blocking vehicular traffic. The first words many spoke made the group laugh: all variations on “I need a cigarette.”
David Gutkin, 24, a Ph. D. student in musicology at Columbia University, was among the first released. He said that after being corralled and arrested on the bridge, he was put into plastic handcuffs and moved to what appeared to be a Metropolitan Transportation
Authority bus, along with dozens of other protesters, for over four hours. They headed first into Brooklyn and then to several locations in Manhattan before arriving at the 54th Street precinct.
Men and women had been held separately, two or three to a cell. A few said they had been zip-tied the entire time. “We sang ‘This Little Light of Mine,’ ” said Annie Day, 34, who when asked her profession said, “I’m a revolutionary.” Ms. Day was wearing laceless Converse sneakers: police had required the removal of all laces as well as her belt. She rethreaded them on the pavement while a man who identified himself as a lawyer took each newly freed person’s name.
None of the protesters interviewed knew if the bridge march was planned or a spontaneous decision by the crowd. But all insisted that the police had made no mention that the roadway was off limits. Ms. Day and several others said that police officers had walked beside the crowd until the group reached about midway, then without warning began to corral the protesters behind orange nets.
The scene outside the Midtown South Precinct on West 35th Street around 2 a. m. was far more jovial. Only about 15 of the rumored 57 people had been released, but about a dozen waiting supporters danced jigs in the street to keep warm. They snacked on pizza. One even drank Coors Light beer, stashing the empty bottles under a parked police van. When a fresh protester was released, he or she ran through a gantlet formed by the waiting group, like a football player bursting onto the field during the Super Bowl. “This is so much better than prison!” one cheered.