Just past midnight on Wednesday morning, as hundreds of PPD officers were mobilizing in Center City to carry out Mayor Nutter’s orders to evict Occupy Philly from its Dilworth Plaza encampment, Dr. Toorjo “T.J.” Ghose was laying in bed at his Fairmount Avenue home.
Ghose, a 40-year-old assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice, had been deeply involved in the Occupy Philly movement since the start, even camping regularly at Dilworth during the nearly two-month occupation. He was part of the throng of Occupiers gathered in front of Dilworth on Sunday at 5 p.m., preparing for eviction and possible arrest in defiance of the mayor’s orders. Nothing happened that night, but Ghose remained at the plaza for the next two days, awake and wondering when a police raid might come. By Tuesday evening, though, he was exhausted, so he went home.
“I was just going to sleep and my wife was like, ‘There are a lot of helicopters out there…,’ so I got up and took a quick look at my computer and they were like, ‘We are getting raided right now,” says Ghose, who—as one of 52 Occupy Philly protesters arrested during Wednesday morning’s eviction–begins to tell his account of the 18 hours that followed.
Ghose left his house and ran toward City Hall. When he arrived, the PPD had yet to finish setting up its metal barricades, so Ghose and dozens of other Occupiers racing to the scene were able to slip into Dilworth Plaza, swelling the number of demonstrators to around 200. It was then, shortly after the police had given their final warning to leave or be arrested, that the Occupiers bounded into the streets, arms entwined. About half set out on a march that took police on a bizarre, four-hour journey through Center City, while 100 others, including Ghose, stayed behind to keep as many police occupied as possible—all according to plan.
“We knew the march was happening,” says Ghose. “We made a decision on the spot to occupy the spot in front of the plaza while the rest of the people marched.”
“[The police] were really surprised that the people had decided to march,” says Ghose. “We kept seeing the cops on the bikes coming and going, they didn’t know whether to follow the marchers or stay and keep the space, which was exactly what our planning was.”
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey arrived on the scene as the standoff continued. Ghose says he heard Ramsey telling members of the media that it was going to be a “nonarrest zone” and that police would remain at the plaza “as long as necessary and we’re going to wear [protesters] down.”
Ghose directed an impromptu speech at the police. “I was like, ‘You guys look like the guys my parents marched against with Gandhi. You’re doing the occupying now, so you need to look at what you represent.”Then, the group began to chant to the PPD, “You’re sexy, you’re cute—get out of your riot suit.” Ghose recalls many cops laughing.
But the laughing quickly ceased when an Occupier somehow managed to grab a tent from the plaza and placed it in the middle of Market Street.
“It was absolutely brilliant. Three or four people crowded into the tent right in front of where we were sitting. Right in front of the police.”
That’s when things started to turn ugly. Ghose says he saw a police captain look at Ramsey and say “Good decision” as 20 cops moved in and surrounded the tent.
“They literally shook the people out, and then they crushed the tent and threw it back,” says Ghose. “And then, before we knew what was happening, a group of bicycle police surrounded us and the captain said, ‘This is the first of your three warnings, if you don’t get back to the sidewalk you will be arrested.’”
Most of the 100 protesters complied, retreating to the sidewalk opposite the plaza. But Ghose and six others remained.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘You know, it’s important to resist. It’s not legal what they’re doing.’” Ghose and the others sat down again and linked arms. On one side of Ghose was a minister. On the other was a first-year college student who turned and looked at Ghose as the third and final warning came.
“He was like, ‘Is this gonna go on our record?’ Ghose recalls. “People did not know what to expect.” But Ghose says he’s been arrested previously (but never booked) for participating in other demonstrations, including protesting the war in Iraq. “So I said, ‘I’ve done this before—let’s be nonviolent and we’ll be fine because there’s nothing illegal that we’re doing and we’ll be vindicated.’”
And then they were arrested. It was around 3 a.m. The others on the sidewalk began chanting “Shame, shame, shame.” The seven started shouting their names out to the others to let them know who was being arrested, and to help arrange bail if necessary. And then, as police were putting plastic ties around their wrists, Ghose says things turned ugly.
“All of us froze because we heard a bunch of screams. We turned around, and these mounted police were bearing down on all the protesters that were on the sidewalk. Literally charging at them. There were people screaming and scattering and I distinctly saw someone go down.” (Occupy Philly’s Facebook page states that a protester named Vanessa was hospitalized with a foot injury after being trampled by a police horse.)
“I think somehow the idea of a nonarrest eviction had turned sour with our arrest. There was a distinct change in [PPD] mood. Like, now that we’re getting arrested, drop the hammer on [the rest].”