The Occupy Wall Street encampment in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park has been under strain recently, with growing numbers of visitors putting new demands on OWS’s ad-hoc infrastructure. Now some are charging that the New York Police Department is intentionally adding to the stress in an attempt to bring the occupation down.
Zuccotti’s activists and agitators have been joined by an increasingly visible contingent of folks drawn by the plaza’s free food and other attractions, a group that Harry Siegel in the New York Daily News described yesterday as “a fast-growing contingent of lawbreakers and lowlifes, many of whom seem to have come to Zuccotti in the last week with the cynical encouragement of the NYPD.” The Daily News describes a growing division in the park between an activist east and a “non-participant” west, the latter representing “a shady mélange of crusty punks, angry drunks, drug dealers and the city’s many varieties of park denizens.” (Tabloid editorializing aside, this characterization of the park’s split is supported by other observers.)
This new dynamic, Siegel says, is a result of police action:
“The NYPD seems to have crossed a line in recent days, as the park has taken on a darker tone with unsteady and unstable types suddenly seeming to emerge from the woodwork. Two different drunks I spoke with last week told me they’d been encouraged to “take it to Zuccotti” by officers who’d found them drinking in other parks, and members of the community affairs working group related several similar stories they’d heard while talking with intoxicated or aggressive new arrivals.”
The NYPD’s press office, Seigel reports, “declined to comment on the record about any such policy,” though police behavior in the park seems to lend it credence:
“‘He’s got a right to express himself, you’ve got a right to express yourself,’ I heard three cops repeat in recent days, using nearly identical language, when asked to intervene with troublemakers inside the park, including a clearly disturbed man screaming and singing wildly at 3 a.m. for the second straight night.”
The question of how to address the problems posed by Zuccotti Park’s changing composition has been the subject of increasing debate in recent days, but that question has so far been framed primarily in terms of challenges arising organically out of the plaza’s identity as a source of resources and amenities. If the NYPD is in fact actively seeding the space with addicts and street people — if their goal is to turn Zuccotti Park into Hamsterdam — that debate may take a new turn.