MANHATTAN (CN) – On the one-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, hundreds gathered outside the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to demand an investigation into alleged incidents of police brutality, in a march monitored by a phalanx of police officers in cars, scooters and helicopters.
Hours later, the New York City Police Department reportedly announced that it would initiate proceedings to reprimand Officer Anthony Bologna, who sprayed Mace in the faces of two young women already caught in police nets.
The NYPD is also investigating Deputy Inspector Johnny Cardona after he was taped delivering a blow to the face of protester Felix Rivera-Pitre, who seems to be backing away from the officer. Cardona contended, but did not offer evidence, that Rivera-Pitre tried to elbow him before the video started.
Rivera-Pitre, who is HIV positive, is an activist for VOCAL-NY, a community group for drug users, former prisoners and people with AIDS. The group, an acronym for Voices of Community Advocates & Leaders, called for the march in response to the incident, and demonstrators passed around yellow daisies that they said symbolized Rivera-Pitre.
VOCAL-NY community organizer Alfredo Carrasquillo carried a placard with a photograph of the punch. The text surrounding it read “JOHNNY ‘FISTS’ CARDONA – FIRE HIM.”
“I believe that NYPD has a lot of biased policies and practices that they use that affect working-class, low-income communities,” Carrasquillo told Courthouse News. “And that’s why we’re out here – because we’re from those communities, and we’re tired of it.”
Originally from the Bronx, Carrasquillo explained that he is “currently jumping from bed to bed” without a permanent home. He added that he crashes “from time to time” at Zuccotti Park, the home of the Occupy Wall Street movement that participants have rechristened Liberty Square.
Being homeless has not dampened Carrasquillo’s activism, as he spoke about VOCAL-NY’s advocacy for prison reform, parolee voting rights and stopping the controversial “stop-and-frisk” NYPD program.
A hard-hat-wearing worker for the Operating Engineers 15D held up a sign depicting him apparently getting thwacked by another officer. The sign read, “Please Don’t Hit Me … again.”
While angry about the alleged abuse, he admitted he blocked traffic.
“Let’s be real,” he said. “I was in the street.”
Several protesters interviewed had long histories working in the justice system.
John Declef, a retired first deputy general counsel for the New York City Housing Authority, sported a conservative, navy suit with an American flag pin on his lapel.
He carried a handcrafted sign that read, “Don’t let the 1% fool you NYPD. We know and you know that each one of you is one of the 99%. Your pay, working conditions, job security and pensions are at risk, just like ours. We are not the enemy.”
Declef said that he asked one of the officers monitoring his area, “What do you think of this sign?”
The officer replied, “It’s all right,” he said.
“Do you agree with it?” he pressed.
The officer allegedly replied, “Yeah, but I’m a working guy. I’m at work right now.”
Declef hopes the sign will build a détente between officers and the protesters, as the number of Occupy Wall Street-related arrests nears the 1,000 mark.
“If one person does not get Maced, or blackjacked, or arrested, because a policeman says, ‘These are my people. They are unarmed. What am I doing?’, then this will have served its purpose,” he told Courthouse News.
Declef, and most of the occupiers, remained in the park as a small offshoot made their way to the district attorney’s office at 100 Center St.
When they arrived, protesters took turns sharing stories of their arrests, as the crowd echoed them through the so-called “people’s mic.”
One of those delivering testimony was Randy Credico, who worked for more than a decade on a campaign to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws at the William Kunstler Center, a nonprofit named after the self-described “radical lawyer.”
A seasoned comedian, politician and gadfly, Credico’s speech to the crowd was, by turns, puckish, conciliatory and rabble-rousing. Honing the art of human microphone comedy, Credico broke up his sentences to work the crowd toward his punchline.
The crowd chanted the story of his arrest, which he said happened when an officer attacked him from behind at a demonstration at Chase Bank.
“I was going to hit him right back,” he began.
“In the balls.”
“But he didn’t have any.”
Though he led the hundreds toward this zinger, police-bashing was not his message.
“I’ve worked in the criminal justice system for 12 years,” he continued. “It isn’t all the police officers that do this type of stuff. Ninety percent of them do great work.”
“Maybe 85,” he hedged.
After fudging the numbers some more for laughs, he sounded a more serious note. “But it’s not just them,” he said. “It’s the district attorney’s office that’s just as responsible. There are people who work just behind here. They commit brutality to the black and Latino community on a daily basis. … The police get all the abuse, but they shouldn’t.”
Reached for comment later, Credico showed Courthouse News his pink summons, which he quipped had been crumpled “like the Shroud of Turin.”
Chomping on an Excelsior cigar like Groucho Marx, Credico said he helped campaign for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who, for Credico, was the lesser of two evils because he presented himself as an opponent of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
Vance was not a popular figure at the rally.
Protesters chanted, “Hey, Vance, can’t you see? Stop police brutality!” and “Wall Street is full of crime. Why not make them do their time?”
As usual, the Occupy Wall Street crowds also chanted, “We are the 99 percent.”
A smaller group added, “And so are cops.”
The district attorney and the NYPD press offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment.