NEW YORK (Reuters) - Occupy Wall Street protesters marched through lower Manhattan on Saturday to rally against police brutality, but the crowd was a fraction of the 5,000 who turned out a week ago when protests sprouted around the globe.
But the rally, a joint demonstration pairing the anti-Wall Street movement against economic inequality with union and civil rights groups, did appear to draw an activist core, including some from beyond lower Manhattan.
About 300 people occupied the south side of Union Square, surrounded by dozens of police officers and police vans along the park’s perimeter on 14th Street. Socialist and Marxist newspaper hawkers mingled with high school students and senior citizens and self-described hippies.
“I think there’s a lot of people who have not experienced police brutality before, and they’re experiencing it for the first time,” rally organizer Kathie Cheng, 39, of Queens said. “That’s helpful for exposing the role of police.”
Support from unions across the United States has helped boost the ranks of the Occupy Wall Street movement against economic inequality, which began five weeks ago and sparked protests nationwide and globally.
Occupy Wall Street organizers have acknowledged the challenges that the coming cold weather could pose to the enthusiasm of the movement. Saturday’s ”teach-in“, aimed at helping educate protesters, included ”know your rights‘’ workshops by lawyers with the anti-police brutality groups.
Carol Brown, 49, said she’s commuted to Zuccotti Park from the Bronx every day for two weeks. She said she marched to Union Square because she believes the movement has gained strength following allegations of police brutality.
“When OWS got big was when they pepper sprayed that girl and it was on YouTube,” she said. “And then someone got punched, and that was online too. And then the Brooklyn Bridge march had all those arrests, and that brought attention too.”
More than 800 people have been arrested at rallies held in New York City since protests began, including more than 700 during an attempted unauthorized march on the Brooklyn bridge earlier this month. Police have disciplined the officer who last month used pepper spray on protesters corralled on a sidewalk, docking more than a third of his vacation time.
Another protester at Saturday’s rally, Kathryn Hoffman, 62, came from Allentown, Pennsylvania, to “feel a sense of solidarity” with a younger generation of activists.
“People in their 50s and 60s have to turn the mantle over to the next generation, and it’s great to see the awareness of the next generation,” she said.
But amid anti-police chants and anti-police brutality T-shirts that read “Am I Free to Go?”, some protesters sought to bring attention back to a broader range of discontent.
“We are against the system,” said Richard Degen, 48, of Manhattan, wearing a white T-shirt festooned with protest buttons from causes ranging from war to Wall Street to police brutality.
“It’s all the same, from Obama to the Republicans to the corporate boards. It’s all the same. The prison industrial complex, the war on drugs, the fake war on terror -- the big banks fund all of this. The 1 percent cause all the problems.”
In Orlando, Florida, police said they arrested 19 protesters before dawn on Saturday on trespass charges for sitting in a city park after hours.
Additional reporting by Barbara Liston in Orlando