Wall Street Protests Strike St. John’s Community

Desiree Rios couldn’t find her roommate.

The sophomore photojournalism major, a resident of the Manhattan campus, went down to the “Occupy Wall Street” protests on Sept. 19 and used her camera to document the events every day thereafter. She marched in the demonstrations, went to meetings and helped gather supplies to support the protests of America’s financial leaders.

But on Sept. 24, when NYPD officers began forcefully containing the protestors to the sidewalks along Manhattan’s Financial District, Rios kept snapping photos when she and her roommate became separated. When she looked up from behind her viewfinder, she saw her roommate across the street in handcuffs.

Rios said she was then told by a NYPD officer to move onto the sidewalk. Rios asked the officer where her friend was being taken, but was then placed under arrest herself.

“Where the hell do they think they can get a law that’s ‘oh hey, just because you’re taking a picture, I can arrest you,’” she said. “I feel like at that protest they had the badge and they had the power.”

Rios said that she was not charged with taking pictures, though some of the other photographers were placed under arrest for that reason. When taken tothe police precinct, a clerk asked Rios’ arresting officer why so many people were being detained. According to Rios, the officer told the clerk, “I’m just as confused as you are.”

Rios is among the many residents of the St. John’s Manhattan campus whose lives have been impacted by the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters, acting under the collective NYC General Assembly name.

Protests in Manhattan’s Liberty Square, located mere blocks from the Manhattan campus, have increased in size and scope since they began nearly three weeks ago. The NYC General Assembly’s membership, which has grown exponentially with each passing day, has camped out in the Square, and as a
result, a makeshift town has been established in the streets. The organization has also created numerous committees, one of which Rios has joined.

Quentin Williams, a senior Health and Human Services major, also lives on the Manhattan campus and does not think the protests will pose a threat to the campus. “I feel fairly secure,” he said. “I don’t think anything would happen.”

Thomas Lawrence, vice president of Public Safety, said that should the protest pose a threat to the campus, Public Safety would work in tandem with the NYPD to maintain everyday protocol.

According to Lawrence, if protests moved north toward campus, Public Safety officers would be notified by email. He said officers would continue to deny access to anyone not affiliated with St. John’s Universityand suggest students stay inside.
“If necessary, our officers would advise our students looking to leave the building at the time a demonstration is passing our doors to await the passing of the demonstration,” he said.

Williams said, however, when he goes for his nightly run, he can see the mobs of people just a few blocks down from the campus. He added that the oddest time he had seen protesters out was at three in the morning.

“It’s not too bad,” he said. “On some days, it’s worse than others. It looks very standoff-ish. It doesn’t seem like anything is getting done.”

Others, however, do not share Williams’ opinion.

“My concern with being there was the fact that how many people are living in utter poverty in this country,” said theater professor Larry Myers, Ph.D., who has written a play about the protests which he plans to show in Canada. “The problem with this rebellion is it’s a confluence of many, many different needs.”

Rios expressed concern that other groups not affiliated with the Wall Street protesters would advocate for their agendas and cloud the NYC General Assembly’s mission. However, the NYC General Assembly only released a declaration of its mission on Oct. 4, which included a range of interests from economic issues and their social ramifications.

Myers protests with the St. John’s Vincentian mission in mind.

“When little old Catholic ladies do Tarzan yells and are caught under orange nets on a bridge over troubled water, something is wrong,” he said.

-Additional reporting by
Terence Cullen, News Editor