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Reports of Pepper Spray, Arrests, After Biggest Wall Street Protest Yet

By DNAinfo Staff on October 5, 2011 5:42pm  | Updated on October 6, 2011 7:43am

By Sonja Sharp, Ben Fractenberg, Julie Shapiro, Olivia Scheck and Tom Liddy

DNAinfo Staff

MANHATTAN — Thousands of Occupy Wall Street protesters, their ranks swelled by union members, marched from Foley Square to the Financial District Wednesday in the most significant show of numbers since the movement began more than two weeks ago.

The daytime demonstration appeared to go off without a hitch — unlike when the group marched on the Brooklyn Bridge this past Saturday, resulting in more than 700 arrests — but a total of 27 people were arrested over the course of the evening, according to a statement by NYPD Commissioner of Public Information Paul Browne.

Nine of the arrests occurred about 7:50 p.m., when police say demonstrators charged a police line at Broadway and Wall Street, which has been closed to protesters since the occupation began. A large crowd, chanting "Let us march," had formed at the intersection following the procession from Foley Square.

Video from the intersection, said to be taken about 8:45 p.m., showed a senior police officer in a white shirt batting demonstrators away with a nightstick.

Most of the arrests were for disorderly conduct, but one person from the Wall Street altercation was charged with inciting a riot, while another person was charged with assault for allegedly knocking a police officer off of his scooter during an incident that occurred at State and Bridge Streets about 9:30 p.m., according to Browne.

A medic for the protesters, Miriam Rocek, 25, recounted treating a woman in her 20s for pepper spray.

“She was in a lot of pain and panicked," Rocek told DNAinfo. "It was in her eyes, mostly her right eye. We had to flush it a lot of times.”

Earlier in the day, what appeared to be tens of thousands of protesters, including members of organized labor and university students who participated in an organized "walk-out," turned out in Foley Square to demonstrate their solidarity.

"Blame Wall Street not Main Street!" protesters chanted.

Hundreds of students from NYU and the New School crammed into Lafayette Street, near Houston Street as they headed downtown to join the others, snarling traffic as they marched. Police tried to get them back onto the sidewalk, but gave up after a while.

"Our whole [poetry] class walked out," said Reut, 18, a New School student living in Chelsea who didn't want her last name used. "Our professor was like, 'I hope you all walk out.' He was cool with it."

A group of about 40 students from Pratt walked out of class and marched over Brooklyn Bridge to join the rally.

More than 30 unions pledged their support for the movement including the United Federation of Teachers, and local chapters of the Service Employees International Union and the Transport Workers Union.

Politicians such as City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and State Sentaor Bill Perkins were on hand for the action, which drew young and old alike as well as people from all walks of life, including nurses and doctors.

“I think the inequality in this country has gotten out of balance and I think it’s time for working people and the middle class to take back some of what belongs to them,” said Robert McCloskey, a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 94, at Zuccotti Park, where the Occupy Wall Street protesters have been camped out since Sept. 17.

McCloskey, who works on air conditioning and heating units, had come off an overnight shift and was planning on going back to work again after the protest.

"Everything has gone up but the salaries — bills, rent, everything but the salaries," said Jose Lugo, 34, of Sheepshead Bay, a train operator for the MTA and a member of the TWU.

"I have no say-so. [The government] can rob me. I rob somebody, I go to jail. We're not CEOs. We're not millionaires. We're working families."

Retired teacher Nancy Pi-Sunyer, 66, of Montclair, NJ, was concerned her retirement account will not support her. 

"My husband and I worry about what we're going to live on, while corporate executives are building McMansions," she said.  "I want to have my voice heard and hopefully make a difference before it's too late. America's economic system is broken, and we need to find a way to bring justice into the system."

At Zuccotti Park, near the World Trade Center, protesters were warned by police to stay on the sidewalks as they made their way north to Foley Square.

They were also given detailed instructions by organizers about what to do if they got arrested and were told to write the phone number for Legal Aid lawyers on their arms.

John Jay College student Kely Mavarrette, 20, who is studying forensic science, said that she didn't want to miss out on the movement.

"I was debating if I should go to class, but then I felt like I would miss something really important," she said. "What’s happening right now is part of history and I don’t want to say I was just at school or sitting at home for it."

Nadine Carole, 24, a student at the Columbia Graduate School of Social Work, said that she was in the middle of a quiz for a social welfare policy class when the walkout began.

"It was the middle of class. I did tell the professor I would be leaving, but I didn't ask permission," she said. "I'm concerned about the economy. I'm going to be a social worker, so it's not just about my job, it's about the people I'll be working with and serving."

Members of the group marched from Zuccotti Park to Foley Square, where they met up with union workers and other protesters, packing so tightly into the space that some were forced up onto the courthouse steps.

"It’s exciting. This is huge. I hope this continues to grow," said Karen Higgins, 57, a registered nurse who works at Boston Medical Center and is a member of National Nurses United.

"It’s shameful [Wall Streeters] have not been paying their fair share.  It’s good to see everyone else in their frustration.”

Raul Hernandez, 37, a member of TWU Local 100 grew up in The Bronx but left for East Stroudsburg, Penn., seven years ago because he got priced out.

"I moved to Pennsylvania because I couldn't afford it. We break our backs every day," he said. "We want what's due."

And Dr. Amit Patel, 29, of East Harlem, a second-year resident at Montefiore Hospital, said he wanted to send the message that people from all economic groups were interested in the fight.

"It's been predominantly portrayed as youth, the unemployed, people who are frustrated about their financial situation," he said. "Given that we're in medicine, our financial situation is secure. That doesn't mean we're not every bit as upset about what's happening to people, especially our patients."

Later on, the protesters marched back to Zuccotti Park, guided by police barricades.  At one point, the march blocked buses that were trying to get downtown.

"I'm tired. I just want to go home. I worked all day," said one woman, who was trying to get home to Staten Island.

On Sept. 24, some 80 protesters were arrested when the group marched to Union Square and back again.

That day, a high-ranking police official, identified by sources as Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, was allegedly caught on video tape pepper spraying a group of women in the Union Square area.

That incident is under investigation by the NYPD and has been referred to the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

A second video surfaced from that day purportedly showing another group of people getting pepper sprayed by a police supervisor who resembled bologna.