The national wave of Occupy crackdowns swept through the South Bronx Saturday, as police arrested five people and broke up an Occupy the Bronx rally at the site of a community garden razed by the city.
Four activists and a freelance journalist were handcuffed on the sidewalk outside a vacant lot at Southern Blvd. and Union Ave. in Mott Haven, formerly the Morning Glory Community Garden.
They were the first Occupy the Bronx activists arrested since the movement formed in October.
“It was heartbreaking,” charged Bronx resident Carlos Sabater, 45, who was detained while filming the rally with a video camera. “The plan was to have a festival. We didn’t want to get arrested. It was messed up.”
The Occupy the Bronx movement scheduled its weekly meeting at the site after the Department of Housing Preservation and Development destroyed the garden and locked the lot, citing plans to build affordable housing.
Community gardeners and members of the Occupy movement planned to host a festival with food and balloons on the sidewalk outside the lot, said gardener Elliott Liu. But police were waiting when they arrived on Saturday morning, he said, and the protestors had no permit.
“The police told us we were blocking the sidewalk,” said Liu, 28. “But we had done tabling there before without trouble. The sidewalk is really wide and there was plenty of room.”
When the small group of protestors began to walk around the lot rather than disperse, five were arrested, including Sabater and Brooklyn resident Shaun Lin, 28.
“The police were telling us we were trespassing on private property,” said Lin, a Bronx youth organizer. “We were walking on the sidewalk and someone got arrested. I turned around to see what was going on and was arrested.”
The five were bundled into a police van and shipped to the 40th Precinct, where more than 100 Occupy the Bronx protestors and passersby then gathered to chant, “Let them go!” Liu said.
The crowd eventually got its wish. The five were issued criminal summonses for disorderly conduct and released, a police spokesman said. The activists later trooped back through Mott Haven to the garden site.
“The arrests were scary,” said Liu. “But the rally at the precinct was really empowering and marching back felt great. Now we know we won’t be intimidated.”
The city-owned lot was a popular site for illegal dumping and a hangout for junkies before volunteer gardeners moved in about two years ago. But the gardeners never registered with the city or acquired the lot and HPD plans to build 428 units of affordable housing, shops and a school there.
Community Board 1 supports the housing project, but Occupy the Bronx member Lisa Ortega said the movement is dead set against it.
“The motto of Occupy the Bronx is to take it back,” said the Bronx resident. “They took our land and we want to take it back.”