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Occupy Wall Street Protesters Clash With Police Outside Courthouse

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OCCUPY WALL STREET ZUCCOTTI PARK
An Occupy Wall Street protestor is arrested for refusing to move away from a barricade after demonstrators were refused access to the steps of the New York Supreme Court, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011, in New York. | AP

NEW YORK -- Hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters clashed with police in front of the New York Supreme Court building Saturday afternoon, after they and thousands others marched across to Foley Square from Zuccotti Park.

At first, police officers stationed along the route largely stood by and watched as protesters marched up Broadway, playing tambourines, drums and harmonicas and chanting slogans like "How do you fix the deficit? Stop the wars, tax the rich!"

As the protest swelled near Foley Square, New York Police Department motorcycles and cars began blocking off intersections. Stranded drivers honked -- angrily, as they impotently inched forward towards the protesters, or in support, cheering and sticking thumbs ups and peace signs out the windows of their vehicles.

The protesters were met on the steps of the courthouse by a line of officers, and more soon arrived, armed with plastic ties and rolled up orange barricades.

Before moving in, a group of officers coordinated.

One, holding a rolled piece of paper, told the group, "We're saying it's blocking a pedestrian walkway."

"Let's go," another officer shouted at his colleagues waiting with zip ties and barricades. "Get up there!"

"Let's stand fast there, huh?" a female officer encouraged, as other officers began saying through megaphones: "Right now, it's illegal to be on the sidewalk, it's a hazard."

Protesters began questioning the NYPD's actions, citing their right to peacefully assemble. They paced the sidewalk in an effort to defend against the argument that the crowd was an obstruction. Several got in the faces of officers forming a human barricade on the courthouse steps.

"You're supposed to be our nation's finest," they shouted. "You're the ones blocking the sidewalk!"

Physical altercations began, with several officers roughly shoving protesters and protesters refusing to move, shouting in the faces of officers narrowing the sidewalk space behind the orange net barriers.

"We don't want nobody to get hurt!" an officer shouted on the megaphone.

Officers provided several different reasons for the courthouse crackdown.

"It's our jobs, it's taxpayer money," a plainclothes man standing with the officers on the steps shouted at protesters. "It's the rules."

An Officer Vance described the space as a "frozen zone" and said the officers' actions were "securing the area."

"You can see I'm having a bad day here," Vance said, asking HuffPost to keep moving.

"They asked me to clear it and I cleared it out," said Officer Birmingham beside him, confirming that the NYPD had "deemed it unsafe."

According to witnesses, one woman was caught between advancing cops and protesters and dragged across the barricade. She was taken up the courthouse steps and cuffed with zip ties against a courthouse column.

Desiree Frias, 18, cried as two cops brought her down the steps toward squad cars.

"I just want to go back to college," she said, gasping. She tried to spell her name between sobs, asking for someone to tell her fiance what had happened as the arresting officers urged her to calm down.

Activist and former New Jersey city councilman Jim Keady, 40, tried to advise Frias of her rights before officers took her.

"It's going to be okay," he said. "You might not make it back to class on Monday, but this is going to be one of the most important lessons you'll ever learn, in exercising your rights."

One officer said she was to be taken to One Police Plaza and likely processed back at the courthouse.

"They just handed her to me, I have no choice," said the female officer on her right.

The number of officers present swelled to about one hundred but only an estimated half-dozen protesters were arrested, according to witnesses. Officers declined to comment or stated they didn't know the number arrested.

Despite physical altercations and heated exchanges, there are no known injuries at this time. Pepper spray did not appear to be used to push back the crowd.

The standoff between protesters and police lasted several hours before protesters dispersed, many headed back to Zuccotti Park. After they had cleared out, several dozen officers remained stationed on the courthouse steps.

Later on Saturday night, several hundred protesters marched to One Police Plaza, where the arrested protesters were due for arraignment, in a show of solidarity. The march organizers interrupted a meeting of the General Assembly in Zuccotti Park to recruit support.

Several dozen police officers responded by accompanying the protesters from Zuccotti Park on foot and by vehicle. Motorcycles formed a barrier in front of the courthouse steps. The protesters stopped in front of the courthouse on the corner of Hogan and Centre streets, where officers also blocked the steps.

"They say this shit can't happen," said a speaker on the steps via the "people's mic," while officers looked on.

Rumors have swirled in recent days that officers will attempt a clean-up or clear-out of the park this weekend, but those rumors are as of yet unconfirmed.

An officer standing near City Hall Saturday afternoon additional authorities had been mobilized for the night to perform duties beyond a nightly counterterrorism check of the city's most iconic sites. Nearly 30 additional cars were out beyond the usual 100.

"We're on standby in case anything goes on downtown," the officer said, clarifying, "at Zuccotti."

UPDATE: 9:45 p.m. -- Desiree Frias is being charged with assaulting an officer, a felony, and obstructing government administration and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors, according to the clerk's office at One Police Plaza.

According to witnesses, Frias was caught between officers trying to clear the area in Foley Square and protesters trying to hold their ground.

It remains unclear what type of assault was allegedly committed by Frias, who was wearing a purple knitted cap and long blue skirt at the time of her arrest.

Court clerk Joe Simon said he could not provide information about the other protesters who were arrested, and he said he believed Frias would not come before a judge Saturday night. He expected the protesters would be arraigned no sooner than 1:00 p.m. Sunday, which is when the courthouse is scheduled to open. It typically takes at least 24 hours to process the paperwork, Simon said, but he noted that at least 350 people were awaiting processing at the 5th precinct where Frias was being held.

Frias's fiance Hector Acevedo said he had not been able to reach her and had not been given any information, though the clerk said she would have access to a phone at the precinct and could consult legal aid once her paperwork was processed. The lawyer would then stand with her before the judge "once she's physically brought up."

Moira Meltzer of the New York office of the National Lawyers Guild contacted this reporter in search of information about Frias' charges. Meltzer said her office had so far had difficulty obtaining information from the authorities.

The Lawyer's Guild Is representing all the protesters arrested at the demonstration in front of the court building and associated protests Saturday.

Meltzer said she has 21 names, but doesn't know if that list includes all who were arrested.