What’s one way for Occupy Wall Street participants to avoid problems with the police as well as their Financial District neighbors? To police themselves. Lifelong New York resident Brendan Burke, 41, was asked early in the occupation to help, and he saw a need. “There was chaos in here, and this is the media center, so security here is about protecting the equipment and being a line of defense against disruption of the media center,” he said. “Then there’s policing people, deescalation style—not brutalization, not putting hands on people, not being like cops.” Burke, tall, bald and with a strapping physique, said attention in the crowded square gets quickly drawn to those who are drunk or starting any kind of trouble; the scrutiny usually causes disrupters to either calm down or leave.
A policeman outside the square, speaking anonymously, said that most of the occupants have been well-behaved during the three-week encampment, though one man had to be taken off by ambulance for a reported drug overdose. “People are taxing the system,” he said, making it difficult to get emergency vehicles to the scene. “He’s lucky there was an EMT here,” he said as he pointed at an Occupy Wall Street volunteer medic, “or he would’ve died.”
Bobby Cooper, who has been camping in Liberty since September 26, is another volunteer helping to maintain order. The 30-year-old sculptor, who has provided security at large warehouse parties in Brooklyn, said he’s been involved in sanitation, medical response, donation handling, and what he jokingly called “city planning” issues at Liberty. On a recent morning, Cooper was preparing to mark off a corridor through the jumble of air mattresses and tarps, using colored tape, to accommodate visitors and commuters who traverse the park to get to work. He was concerned some people wouldn’t move from their places, but said he wouldn’t force them if they refused. The best strategy: “to keep the place so organized and neat and tidy that those who aren’t into being organized and tidy don’t feel comfortable here.”
Perhaps it’s ironic: here are protestors, often characterized as anti-authority, who are surrounded by the NYPD, yet who have created their own version of the police. “We’re revolutionary, but at the same time we have common sense,” said Burke. “If we’re just revolutionary, if we’re just anarchists, the cops will sweep the park.”