Photographers' Blog

Occupy Happy Birthday

By Lucas Jackson

It has been one year since a group of protesters began sleeping on the ground in Zuccotti Park to protest growing income inequality, corporate influence on politics, climate change, and a number of other issues.

SLIDESHOW: RETURN OF OCCUPY

One year ago no-one had heard of Occupy Wall St. and it was fascinating to watch the excitement and size of the protest grow over time. What began as a rag tag group of people who came together to make a semi-permanent presence near Wall St. to spread their message in the heart of the New York financial district quickly grew. For those of us who live and work in New York it was a refreshing change to have a news story grow organically in a city where everything is always polished and shined to dullness in order to present to the media.

For the first time since living here there was a story that allowed you in to cover not only the unplanned demonstrations and actions but also the participants as they sat in Zuccotti dreaming and planning the direction of this movement. Most of the time demonstrators have to pre-approve everything they did with the NYPD and the city but Occupy was refreshingly obstinate in not pre-approving anything and took advantage of their constitutional right to assemble and demonstrate their displeasure with the direction of the country.

Ironically, throughout the movement it has been the police who are giving the movement it’s biggest boost on the national stage. First when a video captured an NYPD commander named Anthony Bologna pepper-spraying a number of protesters, followed by the NYPD arresting hundreds of protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge, and police in Oakland injuring an Iraqi veteran with a pepper spray canister.

Combined with their fight against income inequality and the link between money and politics the movement hit a chord as the story began to circulate through the media. The perception that banks and the people associated with them had swindled the public in the form of massive bailouts galvanized a large number of people, quickly spawning mirroring Occupy encampments in Washington D.C., Denver, Oakland, Los Angeles, and dozens of other cities. For those of us covering the growing demonstrations it seemed like a movement that would only grow especially as it began to turn the national discussion at the time to talk of the 99% and the concentration of income and wealth held by 1% of the population.

Inside the NYPD’s counter terrorism unit

When our photo staff began to plan for the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, it was difficult to know where coverage should begin. The first story that came to mind is how Ground Zero has changed. It has been remarkable to watch the buildings being constructed. Not only have we seen them rise above ground level, but slowly surpass the height of every other building in lower Manhattan. Colleagues of mine have done a wonderful job of documenting the evolution of the site and the reactions of those around it, but while that might be the most obvious story to tell, it was not the most profound change that I feel has taken place in New York since the attacks. For me, the most significant modification is that security has become omnipresent in the city.

Security has emerged as a fact of life here. When we fly we have to take off our shoes and throw away our water bottles. Every commercial building in New York has a security team and identification is required to get to work. The speakers in the subway system continually remind us that “if you see something, say something” and photographing a building that lies in full view of the public is considered a suspicious activity. While this all might seem like an Orwellian society in which “Big Brother” is constantly looking down upon us, it is necessary to remember that New York has been the target of two major successful attacks, one foiled attack, and unknown numbers of prevented attacks since the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

The most visual way to show this shift in New York’s security is to document the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) counter terrorism units. According to their website, the Counter Terrorism Bureau of the NYPD was created by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in 2002 as a direct response to the realization that the city could not rely solely on the federal government for the safety of it’s citizens. The department’s counter terrorism units are the result of the NYPD’s evolution from being a purely domestic reactionary police force to their current manifestation as the primary preventative law enforcement agency for New York City. While the average New Yorker has seen a gradual change in how the department operates since September 11, what is different may not be readily apparent. This photo essay is an attempt to show the many tasks that this section of the NYPD performs in their effort to safeguard the city.