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On the ground with Occupy Wall Street in Times Square

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Carol Whittemore lives in Raleigh; she was in New York City when the Occupy Wall Street protests converged on Times Square. This is what she saw.

In the late afternoon of Saturday, Oct. 15, I stepped out of my New York City hotel and noticed news trucks, a multitude of reporters and uniformed police officers gathering in front of the NYPD command post in Times Square in preparation for the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was headed that way.

As a curious citizen and photojournalist, during my visit to NYC I had planned on visiting Zuccotti Park, where the OWS movement was calling home. No need to go to them, they were on their way to me. They were planning to Occupy Times Square.

About 4 or 5 p.m. protesters started trickling into Times Square and the first to arrive were a small group of antiwar, feed the hungry, etc. tagalongs that had taken this opportunity to spread their message. The Occupy Wall Street movement soon followed.

The protesters were a nonviolent, disjointed, leaderless group of both participants of the Occupy Wall Street movement in Zuccotti Park (camping out) and other citizens who had joined the protest just for the day.

They were an eclectic, intergenerational, multiracial, multicultural group hailing from an array of socioeconomic backgrounds. In all cases the group was disproportionately white, male and under the age of 30. The local news reported that more than 5,000 protesters participated.

Some protesters carried professionally printed signs while most carried handmade signs; messages scribbled with Sharpies onto recycled cardboard, pizza boxes or poster board. There were so many of them I wondered if there were any Sharpies left in NYC.

Most of the slogans focused on the major themes of the movement (the rich make up 1%, while everyone else is the 99%) and a variety of other issues about economic inequality.

As the protesters marched they chanted, "Occupy Wall Street seven days a week," "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out" and "We are the 99%".

This was a stark contrast from the day before, when Times Square was teeming with strollers and, at nightfall, life-size Elmos, Mickeys, Minnies and other Disney characters entertaining under the backdrop of Bubba Gump Shrimp, Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood. The sudden influx of thousands of demonstrators into Times Square at dinnertime—and primetime for theater-goers on a Saturday night—began to test the NYPD's motto: CPR: courtesy, professionalism and respect.

People were struggling to get to Broadway shows, walking blocks to check into hotels. Taxis could not get through the streets, and mobile food vendors in the area were shut down.

The friendly uniformed police officers of earlier in the day—who were happy to pose for photos, suggest a good restaurant, tell me where to find the best deals on shoes and give fist-bumps—were quickly being replaced by mounted police and police in riot gear.

Since it was dark, and the OWS movement is too nebulous to be distinctively recognized, it was difficult for the NYPD to discern who was a demonstrator, visitor or curious onlooker. So the police began to move people out of the area street by street; forcing everyone off the sidewalks.

It was obvious that the NYPD were nervous, growing more tense and anxious by the minute. As the evening wore on and demonstrators started pushing through police barriers, protesters started getting arrested.

It quickly became clear that the NYPD did not want their activities photographed. At one point, while loading a group of protesters onto a paddy wagon, they tried to prohibit us from taking photos by telling us we couldn't stop and observe even for a second. In other words, not long enough to get a shot. This was when they used 10 police officers (over half dressed in riot gear) to load five handcuffed, non-resisting protesters into the police wagon.

Most of the aggression (a little man-handling) and intimidation from the police during the protest was directed at young men. I kept a respectful attitude toward the police and didn't press my luck. They did not bother me. I left at 10 p.m. The demonstration went on into the night. Local reports were inconsistent as to how many protesters were arrested Saturday night.

The next morning, the protesters had gone their separate ways, the life-size Smurfette was having her hair done in the hotel lobby, and peace had returned to Times Square.

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