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Occupy Protesters Seldom See Timely Medical Treatment
Media removed from the equation as Brandon Watts, protester, suffers head injury as a result of police
This story originally appeared in the Hunter Envoy on November 30 2011. It is being re-published to commemorate the ten year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Stay tuned for more vintage re-posts — and some new reporting — from Occupy Wall Street from now until November.
Both entrance and exit to Zuccotti Park were blocked when a call for backup was issued over the police radios and dozens of officers swarmed the park’s center on Nov. 17, jumping over the barricades along the park’s north side. After a moment’s confusion two people were arrested, one injured, bleeding from his head and appearing dazed.
Brandon Watts, 20, missing a boot and bleeding profusely, was brought to the southeast corner of the park by police. Barricades separating tens of journalists and photographers from the sealed park were quickly pushed back as Watts entered the vicinity, effectively preventing the media from getting close to the story. As a result, accounts of the incident in the main stream press have been limited to police statements issued later that day. Luckily, the Envoy was in the park.
As Watts sat bleeding in the park, a member of the Occupy Wall Street medical team attempted to treat his wounds. The medic was dragged away by police. Watts sat in the park under police supervision for approximately 15 minutes before he was moved to a police van. According to police statements circulated in the New York Times and the Daily News, Watts was treated at Bellevue Hospital, although it is unclear precisely how long Watts was made to wait for medical treatment.
Several eye witnesses at the park told the Envoy that Watts’s injuries were sustained when police jumped over the barricade and began to chase Watts. When the police caught him, he was pushed to the ground and, in the words of one witness, “it looked like they were just pummeling him, it was useless.” According to statements issued by the NYPD, Watts threw a AAA battery at an officer, provoking the police swarm and subsequent arrest. Neither account of the incident could be verified, however Watts’ bloody image was made famous on the cover of the Daily News and the webpages of the New York Times and the Guardian.
“The first officer I talked to actually nodded and motioned me through the line of other police officers,” said Miriam Rocek, 25, the member of the Occupy medical team who tried to help Watts. “I got maybe two or three feet from him and just about to examine him ... and then another police officer just grabbed me and dragged me away.”
Rocek said she had received first aid, CPR, and firefighting training for previous licensing she acquired. She wasn’t surprised by the police response, “it has been my experience throughout Occupy Wall Street protests that once people are in police custody, the police are very reluctant to let us treat them” she said. The only time police allowed her to treat an arrestee, she said, was one time when a protester began to suffer an asthma attack under police custody.
“I would say that they don’t want people to be aware of how much damage they have done to protesters that are arrested,” she said. “They don’t necessarily care whether these people who are arrested receive any medical treatment or not.” Kevin Stanley, 24, a registered nurse and part of the Occupy medical team, said incidents like these were common. In one instance Stanley described, police began to push people back. One protester was singled out and flipped onto the ground, landing on his head and creating an “ungodly crack.” Stanley immediately notified police of his medical qualifications and told them that the protester required immediate medical attention.
“I was pleading [with the officers] that he needed medical treatment,” he said. “They clarified he needed to be issued a summons first ... When you have a trained medical technician telling you he needs assistance, if he dies it’s on your head.”
Rocek sees the Occupy movement as a warzone between NYPD and protesters where not all sides abide by the rules. “There is an understanding, in war for example, that people who are providing medical treatment are sort of [off limits],” she said. “It doesn’t seem to be something the police consider as valid.”
Graphic from The Young Turks