Occupy the Bronx takes action at home

Photo by Sarah Grile

Hunts Point resident Maria Rodriguez on Southern Boulevard on the way to the Speakout Against Police Violence.

Hunts Point is scene of Speakout Against Police Violence

Even before police evicted Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park, its local affiliate Occupy the Bronx had turned its attention from lower Manhattan to its home borough, joining other grassroots organizations in neighborhood-based demonstrations on Saturday afternoons.

On Nov. 19, the action was in Hunts Point.

Some 50 people gathered at the plaza outside the Hunts Point stop of the 6 line for the general assembly—the weekly discussion that formulates policy for the movement—before marching down Southern Boulevard to the Hunts Point Library for a Speakout Against Police Violence.

At the general assembly, both newcomers and veterans of the six previous weekly meetings expressed concern about expanding the movement’s outreach and about its relationship to the demonstrations and confrontations that have rocked Manhattan’s financial district.

“I’m going to tell you right now, what they’re doing down at Wall Street is not going to work up here,” declared neighborhood activist Tanya Fields, who was taking part for the first time. People won’t join in “unless you’re talking about something that’s tangible and that they can really see,” she continued.

“We want to take back what’s ours,” said Lisa Ortega, of the Hunts Point organization Rights For Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities, when asked about the movement’s message. “We’re not asking for handouts.”

Asked about the smaller turnout at the following week’s general assembly, Ortega said, “We’re reaching groups in the street.” She estimated the number of active participants at 200.

“I think a lot of people identify with what’s going on right now, but I think it’s hard to address all of the issues,” said Divad Durant, a member of Occupy the Bronx’s direct action group, which helped organize the Speakout.

Occupy The Bronx supporters march down Southern Boulevard

At the Speakout, attorneys offered advice about the rights of people who are stopped by the police and people in the audience spoke of profiling and brutality.

As a black woman, Fields said, within a day of her son’s birth she started thinking about “whether or not he’s going to be a target for police brutality.” The meeting concluded with a march to the 41st Precinct.

After heading for the Wall Street encampment in its first two weeks, since Oct. 22 when Occupy the Bronx joined up with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition to picket banks on Fordham Road, it has focused on the Bronx. The group has decided to move to a different section of the borough each week.

Last week it met at the corner of Gun hill Road and White Plains Road. Following the general assembly about two dozen participants marched down White Plains Road to a Bank of America, leafleting shoppers along the way. In front of the bank, a police officer in an unmarked car threatened one of the facilitators of the organization, Ephraim Cruz, telling him if he saw him when his shift ended, he would kill him.

Next week, Occupy the Bronx plans to meet at the Morning Glory Community Garden on Southern Boulevard and East 147th Street. The garden was uprooted and fenced off by the city, which plans to develop housing on the site.

In response, participants in Occupy the Bronx and the Morning Glory Garden briefly occupied the office of Community Board 1, demanding that the board arrange a meeting with city officials. Further protest is planned for Dec. 3.

Plans now call for future general assemblies to move from Fordham Plaza on the first week of each month (except for Dec. 3) to the Hub on the second week, the Hunts Point subway stop on the third week and the Gun Hill/White Plains Road intersection on the fourth.

Bernard L. Stein contributed reporting to this story.

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