Heated meeting dissolves in shouting
Outraged by the arrest of five people at their general assembly in Mott Haven, supporters of Occupy the Bronx took their protest to the 40th Precinct Community Council.
They left frustrated.
Most of the 60 or so people who jammed a small conference room at Lincoln Hospital on Dec. 7 were there to ask why, for the first time, police had moved against Occupy the Bronx, when a handful of supporters gathered at Morning Glory Community Garden, a city-owned lot that residents had planted, only to have the city fence it off.
Mychal Johnson, a member of Community Board 1 who did not take part in the garden protests, praised the people who had planted the vacant lot with flowers and vegetables. Addressing the precinct commander Deputy Inspector Christopher J. McCormack, he said they had done something positive for the community and had been exercising their right to protest against city plans to uproot the garden as part of a plan to build housing.
When he learned of the arrests, Johnson said, he went to the precinct to ask why. “No one could give us answers,” he said, adding, “The community wants to be sure it’s not guilty first and prove your innocence later.”
The demonstrators had no permit, McCormack responded. To howls of protest he insisted that the demonstration was blocking the sidewalk. Waving cell phones loaded with a video of the protest, members of the audience shouted that the video proved that was not so.
Although Alex Diaz, the president of the council struck a conciliatory note, saying “I’m a 99 percenter, too,” and promising to “make sure your issues are addressed,” he angered the occupiers by saying the council’s role was not to criticize the police and acknowledging that he hadn’t prepared for the meeting by watching the widely-circulated videos of the arrests.
As speaker after speaker got up to demand fuller explanation of police conduct or to denounce it, the atmosphere grew more heated. Matters reached a crescendo when Community Affairs Officer Claudia Mera explained why a large contingent of police was waiting for the general assembly when its members arrived at the garden site on Southern Boulevard and East 147th Street.
Mera pointed to the action earlier in the week when a group of gardeners who are also active in Occupy the Bronx briefly seized the office of Community Board 1. She said the police build-up was aimed at preventing a takeover of the garden lot, but the Occupy the Bronx contingent said her remarks showed that the arrests were “payback” for the earlier protest.
At that point, the meeting degenerated into a shouting match. Diaz promised that the council members would view the video and discuss the arrests, but added “You’re highly disrespectful,” as he adjourned the meeting.
About 20 of the protesters convened a meeting outside the hospital, employing the people’s mic to denounce the police, using words like “pigs” and “occupying force.” The line of officers who stood between them and the hospital entrance grew tense, but kept their expressions impassive. But once the demonstrators were out of earshot, some of them began to mock them, imitating their call and response cries of “Mic check, mic check.”