Noelle Swan

Tensions Rise as Occupy Boston Engages Police in a Standoff at the Charlestown Bridge

Noelle Swan
New England Post
October 11, 2011
 

Tourists aboard several buses got a glimpse of an unscheduled attraction on Monday. Thousands of protesters, inspired and organized by the Occupy Boston movement, participated in a sit-in at the entrance to the Charlestown Bridge.

Local unions, grassroots organizations and faith based groups lent their experience and numbers to Occupy Boston in a march through the downtown area.

“This is what Boston is all about,” said Greg Brookbank of Indianapolis, who was left waiting  at the intersection of North Washington and Causeway Streets aboard a Supertours bus. “This is where and how it all began, isn’t it?”

Thousands of demonstrators responding to calls-to-rally listed on social media sites joined the ranks of Occupy Boston protesters. The protesters have been camping out on the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Dewey Square since September 30, protesting the concentration of wealth in America.

Boston police officers escorted the throng through the Financial District and past Government Center before blocking the crowd from marching onto the Charlestown Bridge.

Officers on the scene reported that though they had known about the march, they had no idea what route the demonstrators planned to take. “We’re winging it,” one officer commented.

The crowd appeared to be “winging it” as well.

It seemed that the many protesters were unaware of where they were going. Organizers held the group at each intersection before deciding which way to proceed.  When it became clear that the crowd was going to try to cross the Charlestown Bridge, police quickly blocked off the entrance.

One man attempted to slip past the police in the initial confusion. A police officer shouted, “Lock him up!” and several officers surrounded him and took him into custody.

A spokesman for the Boston Police said that the demonstrators were barred from the bridge because of “safety concerns.” He added that officers were unsure that the bridge would support the mass of protesters.

The poor condition of the bridge was a major reason that march organizers selected it as a destination. “The Charlestown Bridge was an appropriate venue primarily because it is at the top of the list of bridges that are literally decrepit in the Commonwealth,” said Jason Stephany. Stephany is a spokesman for Mass Uniting, a grassroots organization that collaborated with Occupy Boston on the march to bring attention to the need for job creation and the Obama administration’s proposed jobs bill.

“If [the jobs bill] were to pass tomorrow we’d see $850 million invested in the Massachusetts economy, we’d see 11,000 jobs created and many of the people who are here marching today… would probably be the ones to fix that bridge,” said Stephany.

Not everyone agreed with the inclusion of Mass Uniting in the protest. Back at Dewey Square, several protesters argued among themselves about the role of Mass Uniting in the day’s events. “Mass Uniting wanted us to rush the cops,” one charged.

“I know that there were certain elements within this crowd that were seeking confrontation with the police, but we certainly weren’t one of them,” said Stephany.

While hoards marched from Dewey Square to Charlestown Bridge, others stayed behind and expanded the campsite to a small park next to the Occupy Boston site; the goal being to accommodate the additional protesters drawn to the site Monday night.

Rumors spread throughout the marchers that the police were not going to tolerate the expansion and would soon raid the camp. “I’ve just been informed that officers and barricades are on their way,” one demonstrator announced though a bullhorn as marchers made their way back to the camp. “Get out your cameras. Remain vigilant and remain peaceful.”

Protesters lined up around the perimeter of the park and linked arms, preparing to hold fast should the police arrive.

Participants wielding permanent markers walked along the human chain writing the phone number for the National Lawyers Guild on various body parts. Several protesters expressed concern that this reporter should do the same, saying that they are arresting journalists in New York.

An Occupy Boston-appointed “medic” advised the crowd, “If you are wearing contacts, take them out. If you are pepper sprayed, they will fuse to your eyeballs.”

Police did soon surround the encampment in a loud show of sirens and horns, but watched from across the street and did not enter the park.

Rumors rippled through the crowd that the police department had demanded that the protesters leave by midnight on Monday. When initially questioned, the Boston Police press office denied any such threats.

Just before midnight, officers distributed fliers to protesters stating. “The Boston Police respects your right to protest peacefully. We ask for your ongoing cooperation.”

Police then asked for the protesters to return to their original camp and vacate the second camp established earlier in the day.

Protesters broadcast updates of their third standoff of the day with police on Facebook and Twitter and requested that Boston residents call the mayor’s office to ask that the City let the protesters stay.

Members of Veterans for Piece placed themselves between the police and protesters holding large flags.

Update:

Shortly after 1:30 in the morning more than 200 police officers moved in and began to arrest the individuals. Police placed over 100 protesters on the ground and cuffed their hands with plastic cuffs before dragging them to awaiting police vans.

Tweets from protesters during and after the raid alleged that police officers beat protesters with nightsticks.

The Boston Police declined to comment at this time on these accusations and a spokesman said they were not yet able to provide a specific number of arrests.

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