Andrew Kelly / EPA

Police arrest 104 climate change protesters in Wall Street standoff

NYC police pepper-spray protesters heading for Wall Street, day after massive separate march for climate change action

Police arrested more than 100 protesters who refused orders to disperse on Monday, as at least 1,000 demonstrators gathered in New York City to demand that Wall Street start pitching in cash to stop climate change and that polluting companies clean up their act. The arrests came a day after tens of thousands of people marched peacefully through the city to call for governments to act on global warming, ahead of this week’s U.N. summit on the issue.

A physical confrontation came near the end of a day of boisterous but peaceful demonstrations, styled after the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 and dubbed “Flood Wall Street,” in keeping with the climate change theme. Many protesters wore blue.

After gathering in Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan island, the protesters walked north on Broadway, stopping traffic along the way. They sat down in the street, but police did not issue orders to leave. 

Just as rush hour began in downtown Manhattan on Monday evening, police used barricades and officers on horseback to block protesters from entering Wall Street itself. 

A brief but intense scuffle ensued, and at least one officer could be seen using what appeared to be pepper-spray on about 10 people in the crowd of demonstrators. One man doused water on his face to stop the sting. 

"We were trying to hold our ground, the police freaked out and pepper-sprayed me and the whole front line," said Anthony Robledo, 25, from Queens, New York. "I can still taste it in my mouth. It tastes like really sh--ty hot sauce."

Soon tensions eased at the intersection of Wall St. and Broadway, even as the demonstrators blocked Broadway in both directions. Some ordered pizza while others kicked around a soccer ball, and there was talk of staying all night. 

But at 6:45 p.m., police issued a dispersal order to the protesters. In response, approximately 100 of them sat down, preparing for police to take them away, as an officer with a megaphone repeated the dispersal order several times. 

Soon after, police pushed to the sidewalk hundreds of other protesters who did not want to risk arrest, and a column of uniformed officers walked toward the seated demonstrators.

The police handcuffed the protesters and led them to a waiting police bus in groups of three to five. The process took about an hour and none of the protesters appeared to resist the officers.

Protesters on the sidewalk cheered as police put handcuffed demonstrators in the waiting bus. 

Notable arrestees included a man wearing a polar bear suit and two women dressed as Captain Planet, a TV cartoon character who fought polluters with a loyal team of teenage environmental crusaders. 

Police spokesman Detective James Duffy said 102 demonstrators were arrested and would be charged with disorderly conduct, after they sat down in the street when ordered to leave. Another four protesters who were in wheelchairs were issued criminal summonses to appear in court.

'Safety isn't guaranteed'

"Let's stop Wall Street!" drum-beating protesters chanted earlier in the day after they had made their way up Broadway from the southern tip of Manhattan — a place battered hard in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy, which many blame on climate change's making weather more intense and less predictable.

The Flood Wall Street event came on the eve of a major climate summit at the United Nations, a prelude to larger negotiations among nations in Paris next year on measures that governments can take to combat climate change.

A day earlier, tens of thousands of people marched through midtown Manhattan in a broader protest calling for governments to act on climate change. They were joined by celebrities and political leaders, including U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced new energy efficiency standards for the city.

Many scientists say countries need to drastically reduce their carbon emissions to avoid worsening drought, storms and sea-level rise due to melting ice caps.

Flood Wall Street demonstrators showed up on Monday to push for a range of causes, with many saying the excesses of the financial system — along with insufficient regulation of corporations — impede real action to stop climate change.

"I’m here just to connect the whole climate issue to the problem with Wall Street," said one demonstrator, Jason Woody, a 30-year-old from Brooklyn who works as a bike messenger. "Profit is really the reason we have the climate injustice we do."

"I think we're in the midst of a climate calamity and direct confrontation is needed," said another protester, Phil Johnson, 26, from Vermont.

Hundreds of protesters sat down on Broadway near the famous "Charging Bull" statue, an iconic symbol of Wall Street, as dozens of police officers looked on.

Many of the protesters appeared ready to risk or face arrest, and representatives from the National Lawyers Guild gave advice to some demonstrators on what to do if they end up in handcuffs. One guild member told people that aside from exercising their right to remain silent, they should avoid arrest if they have been living in this country without official immigration documentation — or face the prospect of deportation.

Protest organizer Stefan Fink, 25, from Brooklyn, said that the police allowed demonstrators to "take the street" and that this gentler approach — rather than the heavy-handed tactics used against Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2011 — was thanks to the "eyes of the world being on New York" after the previous day's massive and high-profile march.

Fink, a preschool teacher who participated in the Occupy movement, trained demonstrators in nonviolent civil disobedience tactics over the weekend.

"Safety isn't guaranteed with [the New York City Police Department]," he said. NYPD officers were accused of beating and roughly handling Occupy protesters in 2011.

One enthusiastic supporter, the conductor of a sightseeing tour bus, showed up inadvertently. The demonstrators halted the progress of his double-decker vehicle, but he didn't seem to mind, letting protesters on the bus for a better view of the crowds for a couple of blocks as traffic crawled along.

The conductor, Steven Andrew Johnson, 43, whose Coney Island neighborhood was swamped by Sandy in 2012, participated in the march on Sunday and said he was fully behind the demonstration.

"I care about the future of our planet," said Johnson, originally from Upstate New York. "I plan to live in New York City for the rest of my life, and I don’t want it to be underwater." 

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