Arrests as Occupy Wall Street movement turns to church

New York City, USA - From his spot at the centre of Duarte Square in Lower Manhattan, Matt Sky watched on Saturday as hundreds of protesters streamed into the public areas of the triangle-shaped space at the centre of an ideological tug of war between one-time allies turned adversaries: Occupy Wall Street and Trinity Church.

That began a long day of demonstrations and marches that extended as far as Times Square and resulted in at least 50 arrests.

By noon, protesters had streamed into the square from all directions under cold, cloudy skies to reinforce the vibrancy of a movement swept last month from another space, Zuccotti Park, and signal a resolve against ecclesiastical leaders resisting their wish to set up an encampment on property owned by the venerable Episcopal church.

"Everything about this movement is momentum," said Sky, 27, an Internet consultant from the East Village. "We need to show people that we are still relevant."

Even before the protesters were displaced on November 15, Trinity gave many of them hot chocolate, blankets and a place to rest at a space owned by the church. But when the Occupy movement expressed an interest in setting up an organising camp on vacant Trinity property at Canal Street and Avenue of the Americas, the church said no.

The Occupy Wall Street forces then directed their skills at the church: They took their arguments to the streets. In familiar fashion, police officers converged on the area, standing around the perimeter.

A flier distributed by protesters summed up their mood: "While the event may include a reoccupation, the event itself is a broader celebration and expansion of Occupy Wall Street," it said. It also advised people to bring backpacks, warm clothes and sleeping bags.

About 3 pm, several hundred people began to slowly march along the blocks around the park. They went about five blocks north, then circled back. They were carrying homemade wooden ladders, draped with yellow banners. At Grand Street, the protesters made a move: They threw a ladder fashioned into a portable staircase against a chain-link fence separating the sidewalk from the church's property.

Many people went over the fence that way. Others lifted the fence from the bottom, allowing protesters to squeeze into the space. The protesters were joined by a few clerics, including Bishop George Packard, a retired former supervisor of Episcopal military chaplains.

Within minutes, police officers began taking people into custody. About 4.15 pm, Bishop Packard was led into a police van.

On the sidewalk, other officers pushed into a line of protesters, ordering them to disperse.

But hundreds of demonstrators marched up Seventh Avenue on Saturday evening, in the street and on the sidewalk - and against traffic.

Police vehicles - cars, scooters, vans - followed, and there were more arrests.

"Is there a problem?" said one protester, who was on a bicycle, as a police officer grabbed him on West 29th Street, near Seventh Avenue.

"The problem is you're under arrest," an officer replied.

Earlier in the day, the Rev. Stephen Chinlund, 77, an Episcopal priest who retired seven years ago, held a placard reading: "Trinity Hero of 9/11. Be a Hero Again."

The mission of the church was to help those in need, he said.

The church's rector, the Reverend James H Cooper, expressed sadness over the protesters' actions on Saturday.

"OWS protestors call out for social and economic justice; Trinity has been supporting these goals for more than 300 years," Dr. Cooper said in a statement. "We do not, however, believe that erecting a tent city at Duarte Square enhances their mission or ours."