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Protesters Plan to Occupy Tompkins Square Park

By Patrick Hedlund | October 10, 2011 3:20pm

EAST VILLAGE — Demonstrators linked to Downtown's Occupy Wall Street protest say they plan to overtake Tompkins Square Park this weekend.

Longtime local activist John Penley, who has participated in the weeks-long protest and other related events, said he decided to organize the action after polling nearly 100 park-goers on the idea this past weekend.

“People had already been talking about doing something at Tompkins Square Park,” said Penley, 59, noting the park's place in history as the site of the infamous 1988 riots, in which police clashed with protesters following a city order to close the park to the homeless.

The planned demonstration follows on the heels of a march by hundreds from Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan to Washington Square Park Saturday.

Penley said the group is expected to start with a picnic at noon Saturday, followed by a general assembly where the demonstrators will decide whether to camp out in the park overnight.

The park closes at midnight — unlike Zuccotti Park, which as a privately owned public space does not have a closing time.

Penley said it’s not the group’s intention to confront police, but acknowledged they would be aware of the threat of arrest.

“We’re not going to start a riot. They’re just going to lay down and get arrested,” he said of what protesters would do if they decide to break curfew. “If people do decide to do nonviolent civil disobedience, that’s fine with us.”

Penley added that he is encouraging the Occupy Wall Street protesters to come to the East Village to alleviate overcrowding at Zuccotti Park. He also wants to draw attention to the space’s legacy as a focal point for local activism through the years, dating back to the high-profile 1988 riots.

“One of the reasons that we want to do this is to educate the new people living in the neighborhood about what went on in Tompkins Square Park in the '80s and the '90s, and the police response to it,” he said.

The event will be dedicated to late activist and East Villager Monica Shay, who died in July after a mass shooting at her Pennsylvania home, and late documentarian Bob Arihood, who died late last month from heart failure, the organizer said.

Penley said he expects at least 100 to 150 participants from the neighborhood, not including demonstrators from Zuccotti Park or anyone else who decides to join.

“They’re going to have to figure out their response to it,” he said of the authorities, adding that protesters will not be seeking to incite any skirmishes with police.

“We’re not going tolerate any kind of violence over there.”