Alleged Drug Dealers Arrested at Occupy Wall Street
OWS protesters remain tight-lipped about drug arrests, but reports of new measures to stop free-food services and enforce a work-for-food rule indicate that freeloaders, including some street addicts, are no longer welcome.
A routine drug-related arrest at New York's Occupy Wall Street encampment is drawing outsized scrutiny in light of recent controversies involving alleged drug use at Zuccotti Park. Yesterday, the NYPD's generally sluggish twitter account fired off a tweet claiming that “Police seek 3 who threatened to kill a protestor for filing complaint vs drug dealer in Zuccotti Pk,” attaching a "wanted poster" of the three suspects, and adding that the threat was related to “a previous assault incident” in the park on October 22. Later they tweeted that two of the suspects involved in the incident had been arrested and charged with threatening a witness. The arrests were apparently precipitated by a woman's complaint to police last weekend that a man had assaulted her. Cops intervened, arrested the man, charged him with assault, and—after reportedly finding a bag of cocaine on him—with possession. An NYPD spokesman declined to say why they called him a "drug dealer" when they'd only charged him with possession. Another suspect was arrested soon after. Yesterday's tear-gassing of Oakland rattled occupiers and police even more, resulting in solidarity marches and tactical maneuverings to force and avoid shutdowns. The early morning atmosphere was an odd mix of paranoia and peace, with police moving en masse around the square and Occupiers following them in an "Om circle", determined to show how peaceful their protest remains.
The issue of drugs has become an increasingly loaded one, as police departments in cities from Oakland to Denver have used the issue as a pretext for shutting down their own home-grown protests. A volunteer medic acknowledged to The Fix that despite OWS's official zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy, some drug dealers are present, taking advantage of the free food and the crowd of largely young people to ply their illicit trade, with marijuana more common than heroin, cocaine or other substances. Brendan Burke, OWS's head of security, first suggested that last night's arrest of the suspect on the "wanted poster" didn't take place at the encampment, but admitted today that it "probably" had. He claimed that he knew of no other drug-related arrests, while the police have refused to comment on our repeated requests for the number of such arrests since OWS began in mid-September. "I talked to a Community Affairs [police] officer about a kid who was smoking something that was not legal,” he told The Fix, but stressed, "We don't bounce anyone out of the park—at least I don’t—but this is not mommy and daddy's campground; this is the street. I encourage anyone with any information about an actual crime to go to a police officer about it." Even OWS occupiers in recovery were reluctant to get specific. One told The Fix that he found all drug use "undesirable" and that he left the park early yesterday because he was bothered by pot smoke. He then added, "Today I am ecstatic," before refusing further comment. Was this a cryptic reference to today's shutdown of OWS's free-food service (with rations of PB &J sandwiches a minimal alternative), which several protesters explained was a three-day experiment in trying to rid the encampment of freeloaders, a category that includes a range of troublemakers not limited to dealers and some street people who are drunk, on drugs or otherwise-impaired and consistently and pointlessly disruptive.
The OWS community, for the most part, is earnest and vigilant in its conflict resolution practices, such as telling public drug users to take it off site; given the mounting pressures from the media, the police, and the city, OWS has created a remarkably peaceable kingdom in the capital of the money culture, where doing illicit business extends from the gritty street dealing of those at the bottom of the 99% to the C-suites in the great steel-and-glass pyramids of the top-most 1%. But enough appears to be enough. A mental-health liaison to the community health committee said that there was also talk of taking all the problems in hand by instituting a new work-for-food policy, another measure to weed out people unable to make even a minimal commitment to community health. "There are adults here and there are children here," said one protester who had been in the park since day 1. "Now the adults have decided to take things in hand."
Most protesters we spoke to distanced themselves from dealers and users, claiming they aren't real "occupiers," but opportunists taking advantage of the movement. A press relations volunteer, Bill Dobbs, explained that the park is open to everyone, that the police are free to enforce the laws as they choose, and that "what matters is how people interact with the movement we're building out here."