I hate becoming part of the story, but sometimes it’s not up to you. So when I went chasing demonstrators from Occupy Wall Street around Lower Manhattan, little did I know that my name would be circling the world (yes, the power of the Internet) as the reporter who got too close for comfort when the nightsticks and pepper spray started flying.
It all started very peacefully, in Foley Square, where photographer Roy Isen and I landed in preparation for a 6 p.m. live shot. The crowd had built, we had gotten our interviews, and after moving to City Hall, everything went off without a hitch.
Then the pursuit began. Demonstrators headed back to their home base of Zuccotti Park. We followed. Demonstrators then decided it was time to march on Wall Street. We followed.
Demonstrators made their way to the entrance to Wall Street, on Broadway. We followed. This time police were waiting. They had a barrier up.
Members of the crowd started grumbling, some started screaming, and then at some point, there was a meeting. Some in the group demanded a sit-in of sorts. Others said the street should be blocked (Broadway). Still others grumbled that they wanted to storm the gates. This went on for 20 minutes or so, until you suddenly could feel the tension in the air.
And then it happened in a split second. A few members of the group surged forward, followed by others. Then all hell broke loose. Police tried to hold back the crowd, and then a few started swinging nightsticks.
At this point, a smart person would run to the back of the crowd. But that’s not what we get paid for. So I stood my ground and held out my microphone, in order to capture the best sound possible. I was a bit surprised though when I suddenly noticed one officer getting ready to unleash a backhand towards me. Pete Sampras would have been proud. I took one to the lower rib, and unleashed a groan that would later be heard by the Tri-state area. The same officer swung then came back with his forehand. This time, I was ready, and sounded the retreat. Swing and a miss!
At this point, we heard, “Pepper spray! Mace! Cover your eyes!” My glasses kept me safe. Not so much for my cameraman, Roy. He took a direct hit in the eyes.
The police had seized the initiative, and the crowd surged backward. Unfortunately, the surge took most of us straight to the ground. My leg twisted in a way that said if it twists a few more inches, it would start to take a new shape. Two big guys landed on me, and I somehow wiggled away.
Now I saw Roy, flat on his back, rubbing his eyes. He was down for the count. I tried to drag him out of there.
So many people said to me, “That’s terrible what happened to you guys.”
The reality: We are like the sideline cameraman when the football game goes out of bands. You get hit? Too bad. You chose to be there.
I had bruised ribs and a twisted leg. Roy was worse off. His eyes burned for hours, and his body took a beating after landing on his back with a camera with no arms to brace his fall.
The protests go on and will for a while. So do Roy and I. Next time, we back peddle faster.