Underclassmen history teacher Ms. Horn once asked this question to her students. In typical Hills humor, someone screamed, “Join in!”
Immediately, her response was an adamant “No! You do not join a riot! You run away and hide!”
Instead of the question living in its proposed, theoretical world, it became a decision I needed to make on December 17. My friends and I were in the Garment District, walking downtown, when we saw a sea of people running towards us. My heart began to palpitate and my first thought was that we were under attack.
In a post 9/11 world, you can never discredit the idea that an attack can happen at any moment. After a few seconds, I began to notice the signs and hear the chants: Occupy Wall Street protestors had literally taken the streets.
Senior Chris Woods looked at all of us and put it to a vote: to join or not to join, that was the question.
To clearly understand why I did join the riot, let’s rewind to November 25, the day after Thanksgiving. Bright eyed and excited, I decided to go down to Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan to interview protestors on supposed police brutality. I was halfway through my acceptance speech, Pulitzer Prize award in hand for exceptional journalism, before it was ripped away from me by the cold truth. No tents. No armed police forces. No protestors.
What the New York Times had showed me in the papers did not exist, but rather a man who believed himself to have a direct lineage to Voldemort, another who belonged to a secret cult before sheepishly admitting it wasn’t secret anymore, and a few people huddled around a homeless man who carried a duffle bag full of white mice.
You can see why my hopes were dashed. I spoke with the New York police department officers that were on site, but they were very vague and unable to give me any information. My dad smugly told me that all the protestors had simply “gone home,” and that we should do the same (I dragged him into the city on his day off, so he wasn’t happy to oblige).
I planned to write an article, similar to this, about my disappointments. Instead, I get to talk about something much cooler and completely more dangerous: getting detained by the NYPD.
Camera in tow, I began snapping pictures of the crowd from the sidewalk, safe from any sort of trampling. My fellow seniors and I joined the crowd, most of which were people under the age of 25. A man in his 40s stood on the corner of 29th and 7th, directing the crowd of people to keep moving. Next to me, a college student then informed me that the police had begun barricading the area. There were two buses cutting off 7th on 31st and 33rd street, and I was smack in the middle.
As we turned onto 29th, screams escalated from the front and people began rushing towards me. At this point I had completely lost the four guys I was with, and was now completely alone. The NYPD detained the protestors in two small areas, and none of us were able to leave. College students berated officers with reasons for our detainment, as we were exercising our first amendment rights. I continued to snap pictures, determined to get a few good ones.
What shocked me was who the protestors really were. All of the people in my detained section were college students, or people in that age bracket. Many had cameras and signs, and all of them were conversing with one another. The officers
would not speak to us, and if they did they were brisk and rude, despite the politeness some of the protestors showed them.
Every officer there was in their typical garb, along with zip ties around their belt and clubs in hand. One woman nearby began screaming and poking a police officer, prompting him to take one of his many zip ties and restrain her. Across the street, I watched a middle-aged African American attack a police officer to the ground before a group of officers yanked the man back. He was immediately arrested and placed into one of the many cars.
I was detained for about twenty minutes and with no signs of being released any time soon. The people on the streets, as well as many other protestors that avoided entrapment, began to chant, “Let them go!” Within a few minutes after the chanting stopped, a police officer with a megaphone instructed the protestors that they could continue to protest on the sidewal
ks but if they stepped foot on the streets without being in a crosswalk, they would immediately be arrested. We were then let go.
I rejoined my friends, and our night in the city continued as planned. However, I was still struck by the protestors and their impact. Time recently named the person of the year the protestor.
Most Americans think poorly of the Occupy Wall Street protestors, believing them to be degenerates or ill-informed. What grinds my gears is that they are fighting for us. While violence is definitely not the answer, I believe in the peaceful protests of people who really believe in what they are fighting for.
Although what I did was dangerous (I could have easily been pepper sprayed, attacked, or arrested), I am happy I joined in. While it was half-terrifying and half-exhilarating to be enchanted by mob mentality, I believe that exercising our right to protest is the best way to prove that change can happen.