Reprinted from an article by Matt Wells in the Guardian:
The feminist author Naomi Wolf has criticised the erosion of the right to public protest in the United States after she was arrested alongsideOccupy Wall Street demonstrators in New York.
Wolf was led away in handcuffs after addressing protesters outside an awards ceremony held to honour New York’s governor, at which she was a guest.
The author had disputed claims by police that a permit granted to the event – organised by the Huffington Post website on Tuesday night – allowed them to clear the sidewalk outside the venue in the Soho district of Manhattan.
Inside, the New York state governor, Andrew Cuomo, was being presented with the “game-changer of the year” award by the Huffington Post. A group of protesters had arrived from the Occupy Wall Street group’s camp in Zuccotti Park to demonstrate against his opposition to extending New York State’s “millionaire’s tax”, and his support of the contentious process of extracting natural gas from shale, known as fracking.
Wolf, who staged an attempt in 2008 to read the US constitution using a megaphone in New York’s Union Square and discovered it was illegal, emerged from the event to lend her support and advice to the demonstrators.
She told the Guardian on Wednesday: “When I came out, the protesters had been pushed across the street. This happens in Britain, too, with kettling. Police keep inventing this right to barricade people in and tell people where to protest, but in the United States this is wrong: it’s against the first amendment rights of freedom of assembly.
“So I walked over to where they were – they were backed up against the wall. Police said there was a permit saying they couldn’t walk on the sidewalk. There was this giant phalanx of police.”
After discussing the issue with officers, Wolf said she established that the event’s permit did not prevent people from walking on the sidewalk outside the venue. Along with a small number of other protesters, she started to pace up and down the sidewalk.
“Then, a huge group of men in white shirts, who seem to be affiliated to the New York police department, but who are not self-evidently so – bigger and fitter than the rank-and-file blue-shirted officers – came in droves. About 30 or 40 of these men appeared.
“They got a megaphone – which the protesters are told is illegal – and they started shouting that we were illegally disrupting an event and we should disperse.”
Wolf said she “calmly” disputed the order with one of the officers in white shirts, who are more senior than those in blue shirts. “By this time I was surrounded by them. One of them asked me if I was going to get out of his way. I didn’t think consciously that I couldn’t step away, but I froze. My conscience froze me.”
Officers then detained Wolf, and took her to a precinct where she said she spent about half an hour in a cell. Her partner, the film producer Avram Ludwig, was also arrested. Both were later released with a summons for “refusing a lawful order”.
Wolf, who held the 2008 event while researching her book Give Me Liberty, said there was an “array of anti-dissent permits and restrictions” in New York, preventing the use of megaphones and restricting the right of assembly. “It’s a completely opaque process. If your permit is refused, you can’t find out who refused it and why. It’s completely Stalinist.”
The scene outside the Soho restaurant was just the latest in one of many curious moments as the Occupy Wall Street movement grabs the attention of the New York chattering classes: later the same evening, the actor Alec Baldwin turned up at the protesters’ Zuccotti Park encampment to demonstrate his approval for their actions.
[Sara’s note: Ugh, poor Alec! This embarrassing-by-proxy interaction is truly cringeworthy – and please note, the guy talking to Alec is NOT representative of all the folks participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement!]
Earlier on Tuesday, it was revealed that a New York Police Department investigation had censured a police officer who used pepper spray on Occupy Wall Street protesters last month.
Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna faces losing 10 vacation days after the incident on 24 September near Union Square, shortly after the protests began in lower Manhattan, according to the Associated Press.
Video from the protests shows a small group of mostly women corralled by orange netting used by officers to control crowds. Bologna approaches and seemingly without warning blasted a cluster of women with pepper spray. Two of the women crumple on the sidewalk in pain.