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“It was at this point things goat ugly”

For the past week and a half, people of all ages have been camped out in the Financial District protesting the unaccountability of Wall Street banks under the self-assigned name of “Occupy Wall Street.” Although I had been aware of the protest, it wasn’t something I was paying much attention to until this past Saturday when, walking back from brunch in the Village, I saw several hundred protesters being “kettled” (pinned with nets) by the NYPD. My boyfriend Eric and I got there right as police began to rush the demonstrators.

At first there were only about 20 cops on the scene. Then, in a matter of moments, helicopters appeared and nearly 300 more officers arrived. At this point, protesters and bystanders had joined forces, chanting “Let them go” and “Let us go,” but the cops kept expanding the nets to trap more people. It was at this point that things got ugly.

The group of police officers who had just arrived on the scene either had less understanding of the situation than the officers who intitiated the sting or were trying to provoke people to violence so they could make arrests. Thankfully, both protesters and bystanders did not resort to violence—unlike the police. The new officers acted as if there had been a bomb or mass murder, throwing people to the ground and up against walls. I saw at least a dozen women get thrown to the ground by 200-pound men.

While this was happening, Eric and I tried to talk to the officers to get them to explain why these people were being shown such violence when they had clearly done nothing to warrant such an extreme reaction. Most of the officers either refused to speak to us or told us that if we didn’t stop interfering, we would be arrested as well.

The most telling moment of the horrific afternoon was when a cop told us, “[Just because] it says you can do something in the Constitution, that doesn’t mean it’s your right.” This sentiment really summed up the NYPD’s attitude—not only did they severely violate these people’s First Amendment rights, they fundamentally disrespected them as human beings.

The one positive, inspiring result of Saturday is that I now realize I cannot afford to be a bystander while these people and others around America bravely take a stand against our uninterested government, institutionalized economic corruption, deeply unjust justice system and extreme, rampant poverty in this, the supposedly richest country in the world.

On Saturday, the lines between social activist and casual bystander were blurred and everyone became a witness. I encourage anyone reading this to also be a witness—participate, tweet, post on Facebook, write, blog, donate and speak your mind. No one will do it for you.

—Daphne Muller, via e-mail

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