Cops break up Occupy the Bronx rally

New Yorkers Against Gun Violence brought a giant puppet to the 40th Precinct, where they joined with Occupy the Bronx to protest the arrests at Morning Glory Garden. Photo by Elizabeth Chen

Five arrested at Morning Glory Community Garden site

Police arrested five people at the Occupy the Bronx general assembly in Mott Haven Saturday, preempting the organization’s plans to hold a rally and “festival” in a community garden fenced-off by the city in mid-November.

“Of the general assemblies I’ve attended, this is the first that I’ve seen this kind of police presence,” said Carl Lundgren, a member of Bronx Greens, a local environmental advocacy group.

The group had publicized plans for a “day of festivities” at Morning Glory Garden a vacant lot on Southern Boulevard and East 147th Street, where gardeners, many of whom are also among the most active people in Occupy the Bronx, had grown flowers and vegetable for the last two years.

The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development kicked the community group out out and tore up the garden, where it plans to build housing.

In protest, participants in Occupy the Bronx had briefly occupied the offices of Community Board 1, demanding that the board support its efforts to meet with the city housing department.

According to Elliott Liu, both a gardener and a member of the Occupy the Bronx facilitation working group, police ordered the protesters to “keep moving,” saying their meeting was blocking the sidewalk. Although the group did move, Liu said, the police arbitrarily singled-out people to be arrested.

According to NYPD spokesman Mike Wysokowski, the five people were arrested for “blocking pedestrian traffic.”

A video taken by a member of the organization seems to confirm the protesters’ claim that they did not block the sidewalks. It shows the general assembly moving to the fence around the garden, leaving ample room for others—including police officers—to walk by.

In the video police are shown interrogating a News 12 reporter and arresting a freelance journalist, Carla Murphy.

In weekly meetings since mid-October, including one at the Hub on Nov. 17, police stood by while the group held its general assembly, and even provided free entrance to the subway on Oct. 15, when protesters marched from Fordham Plaza to head downtown to Zuccotti Park, headquarters of Occupy Wall Street.

“I’ve been doing this type of work for 15 years and this was the most quiet, peaceful convening I’d ever seen,” said Lisa Ortega, a mainstay of Occupy the Bronx and a leader of the Hunts Point-based organization Rights For Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities. Ortega’s husband, Carlos Sabater, was one of those arrested. “NYPD was already very hostile and aggressive when we got there,” she said.

After the arrests, the general assembly, swelled by marchers from New Yorkers Against Gun Violence who had been protesting violence in the community and by others made aware of the arrests via messages on Facebook, moved to a street corner directly across from the 40th Precinct on Alexander Avenue and demanded the release of those arrested.

“Let them go!” the crowd chanted at the precinct, while holding up a giant, dancing Statue of Liberty puppet draped in the Puerto Rican flag.

The protesters were released from the precinct’s holding cell in the afternoon after being detained for about three hours. They were given summonses to appear in court.

Alex Kahn, a 25-year-old software developer was among those arrested . This was his first time attending an Occupy the Bronx general assembly.

“It was a little scary, but I was with people who I felt safe with,” said Kahn. “It’s the kind of experience that makes it clear that what the role of the police is in society. If their job was to protect the community, they wouldn’t be arresting people for having a meeting.”

After celebrating the release of their comrades, the general assembly joined the anti-violence march.

Occupy the Bronx members say they plan to continue to defy orders to stay away from Morning Glory Garden. Next Saturday, they say, they will meet at the corner of 149th St. and Third Ave. in Mott Haven to rally again.

They are also asking supporters to attend the 40th Precinct Community Council meeting on Wednesday, where they plan to interrogate officials about the arrests of their members.

“We’re community residents who’ve been oppressed for a long time and we don’t intend to back down by any means,” said Ortega. “And if it means that tons of us will continue to be arrested, we’re willing to do so. We’re not afraid.”