Yesterday I stopped by @OccupyNewark for the start of its encampment in Military Park. Police had informed demonstrators that the park’s 9pm curfew was going to be enforced, and that they’d “do whatever they had to do.”
It should be noted that curfews are just about never enforced at this park, where homeless and mentally ill people sleep every night.
But regardless, a crew of officers showed up ahead of the deadline. One officer, Sgt. A. Martin of the Newark Emergency Service Unit, said he supported the Occupy Movement, though wasn’t very clear on all the details of it. “I’m a working man, you know?” he said.
I then spoke with Captain G. L. Quackenbush, who was on the scene, regarding the upcoming eviction. One officer yelled out at me, “Go back to New York, cherry blossom.” (I actually grew up about 15 minutes outside Newark)
I wasn’t sure I heard this officer properly, so responded, “Sorry?”
He said, “Yeah, that’s right, you are sorry.” Another officer called out to his colleagues, “Let’s grind some ass tonight, guys.”
As one of only three police departments around the country under Justice Department investigation for civil rights abuses, Newark PD is known for its aggression and corruption. A few took photos of me with their smarphones as I recorded video.
I asked Captain Quackenbush if Mayor Cory Booker was aware of the upcoming police action in the park. Quackenbush responded, “You think we’re doing this without the Mayor’s blessing?”
I went ahead and tweeted his response at @CoryBooker, who is known for being active on Twitter.
Then just past 9pm, Quackenbush entered the park to address demonstrators. Here is video. He said “You’re on your own,” waved his hands in the air, and quickly left the scene along with all his officers. There was confusion among the officers themselves about what was going on. I tried to confirm with Quackenbush that demonstrators were now legally allowed to stay on the space they’d been occupying, but he wasn’t clear at all about what the directive meant.
People started expressing safety concerns in light of the police’s announcement that they would not be providing protection to anyone staying in the park. “Call 911 for emergencies,” Booker tweeted. He also retweeted people thanking him for “respecting free speech.”
It was a very bizarre series of events. Too bad there seemed to be no journalists there other than myself.