Much to the surprise of many observing Occupy Wall Street’s newest tactic, “sleepful protests,” in which activists camp on sidewalks by Wall Street, the NYPD allowed protesters to sleep in the area around the financial district for a fourth straight night yesterday.
“SleepOWS” now has a Twitter account (so you know it’s official), @sleeponwallst, that posted this morning: “81 indignant sleeping across Wall St, Nassau, Broad. Happy Friday!”
If this latest count is accurate, it means the movement is gradually growing (seventy-five people slept around Wall Street on Tuesday), and New York magazine hypothesized those numbers could swell further as the weather continues to warm and sleeping outside is no longer such an arduous task. (photo by @johnknefel)
“Finally here we are, in the belly of the beast,” said one overnighter.
For those of us who have covered the NYPD’s oftentimes brutal treatment of OWS protesters, this new friendly approach to the movement borders on the surreal. (photo by @occupywallstnyc)
“I just saw a rank and file NYPD officer flash a quick peace sign at Occupiers bedding down by the stock exchange,” Guardian journalist Ryan Devereaux tweeted last night.
Of course, the NYPD’s new approach to Occupy may have less to do with a collective change of heart and more to do with a mix of bad PR and recognition of legal boundaries. The department withstood many months of public backlash when an officer pepper-sprayed innocent, penned protesters, another charged a horse into a crowd of activists, and still more police performed a mass arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Additionally, attorney Gideon Oliver claims protesters are protected from arrest by a 2000 court decision that allows sleeping on sidewalks to express political views. Another prominent civil rights lawyer, Norman Siegel, claims the same precedent for why protesters must be allowed to sleep on sidewalks as a form of political expression.
Meanwhile, DC police have been less accommodating to protesters implementing the same strategy. Two members of Occupy DC were arrested Thursday morning outside a Bank of American branch near McPherson square after an overnight protest, making them the sixth and seventh to be arrested in a single week of “sleepful protests.” (photo by @occupy_dc)
Sam Jewler, a longtime member of Occupy DC, wrote in an email to DCist earlier this week that sleeping outside banks “call[s] attention to their economically, politically and morally corrupting influence on our society.”
Activists see the temporary sidewalk camps as a more manageable, realistic way to maintain Occupy’s presence.
“It takes a tremendous amount of resources to maintain a camp,” Mr. Guest said Wednesday night to the New York Times, “but sidewalks are everywhere.”
Another perk is that the new location “in the belly of the beast” permits Occupiers to be seen by pedestrians and allows activists to interact with Wall Street employees.
The Times’s Colin Moynihan describes the scene of a Wall Street sleepful protest in the early hours of the morning:
By 5:30 a.m., the sound of stainless-steel coffee carts clattering over cobblestones could be heard. Workers began hosing the sidewalk across the street from Federal Hall. By 6 a.m., protesters were waking up.
As the sky brightened, workers in suits or high heels began walking down Wall Street, and a young protester offered them pamphlets.
Many ignored the literature. Some accepted, leafing through the pamphlet as they walked or shoving it into their pockets as they hurried to their jobs.