NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York police prevented protesters from shutting down Wall Street on Thursday, arresting at least 177 people in repeated clashes with an Occupy Wall Street rally that drew fewer demonstrators than expected.
Hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters took to the streets in rainy New York and elsewhere in the United States for a day of action seen as a test of the momentum of the two-month-old grassroots movement against economic inequality.
In the biggest New York protest since a police raid broke up the protesters’ encampment in a park near Wall Street on Tuesday, organizers and city officials had expected tens of thousands to turn out. Mayor Michael Bloomberg put the figure at less than 1,000.
“We certainly want to see more people mobilize and show up,” said Occupy Wall Street spokesman Jeff Smith, who nevertheless said there was “a fantastic turnout.”
Many protesters complained of police brutality, pointing to one image of man whose face was bloodied during his arrest and another of a woman who was dragged across the sidewalk by an officer.
Police reported seven officers were injured, including one whose hand was cut by a flying piece of glass and five who were hit in the face by a liquid believed to be vinegar.
Police barricaded the narrow streets around Wall Street, home to the New York Stock Exchange, and used batons to push protesters onto the sidewalk as they marched through the area to try and prevent financial workers getting to their desks.
Workers were allowed past barricades with identification and the New York Stock Exchange opened on time and operated normally. Police and protesters scuffled and some 177 people were arrested.
Protesters banged drums and yelled “We are the 99 percent” — referring to their contention that the U.S. political system benefits only the richest 1 percent.
“I wanted to see more people. I had watched this on the news and hoped for more. I wasn’t satisfied with the numbers (at the protest),” said Sadat Hadzijic, 20 from the Bronx.
Protesters also took their protest to 16 subway hubs and planned a march across the Brooklyn Bridge.
At the Union Square subway stop, one of the busiest in the city, protesters tried to crowd the entrance but police repeatedly moved them against the walls to make way for subway riders.
“The mayor wanted to shut us down at Zuccotti Park, but try shutting this down,” said Travis McConnell, 27, of Brooklyn. “They can’t. This movement is now worldwide and the more politicians and police try to stop us, the stronger we become.”
Last month, more than 700 people were arrested during a similar march across the Brooklyn Bridge after some protesters blocked traffic.
PROTESTS ACROSS U.S.
In Los Angeles, hundreds of anti-Wall Street demonstrators blocked a downtown street, snarling traffic on surrounding freeways, before police moved in and arrested 23 people.
The Los Angeles protest took place near demonstrators’ encampment on the City Hall lawn, and a handful of people in grinning Guy Fawkes masks — a style hallmark of the Occupy movement — joined the march.
“I think we’re all saying the same thing, but in a million different ways,” said Good Jobs LA organizer Sandra Gonzalez, 42, in explaining the relationship between her group, which organized the march, and the nationwide Occupy protests.
The Washington gathering was also smaller than hoped for by organizers. One protester in McPherson Square said he expected about 1,000 people while perhaps 200 showed and many left within the hour.
In Dallas more than a dozen people were arrested when police shut down their six-week-old camp near City Hall.
Before dawn on Thursday, police cleared away a protest camp from a plaza at the University of California, Berkeley, where 5,000 people had gathered on Tuesday night.
Protesters say they are upset that billions of dollars in bailouts given to banks during the recession allowed a return to huge profits while average Americans have had no relief from high unemployment and a struggling economy.
They also say the richest 1 percent of Americans do not pay their fair share of taxes.
(Additional reporting by Sharon Reich in New York, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Laird Harrison in Oakland and Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Writing by Michelle Nichols and Daneil Trotta; editing by Doina Chiacu and Cynthia Osterman)
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