‘Pandas’ take to the street; 5 arrested

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A procession of hundreds of walking and biking citizens was halted by the NYPD in Williamsburg Saturday night during “Pandamonium,” a self-described “costumed, roving street party” where revelers dressed up as, well, pandas.

The spectacle attracted several police vehicles and a search helicopter and resulted in the arrests of five citizens on charges including resisting arrest and inciting a riot, a criminal charge punishable by up to five years in prison.

A spokesman for Pandamonium, who asked only to be referred to as Alex Panda because he is involved in other activities and wishes to “get the panda message out while keeping his identity low,” said the event was an attempt to “politicize an apolitical subculture” and “introduce an entire community of young people to direct action.” Flyers distributed by Pandamonium at the event described its mission as being one of protest to the growing commercialization of Williamsburg, specifically Bedford Avenue.

The arrests were heavily protested by participants of Pandamonium, who said the NYPD acted with unnecessary force. The NYPD’s actions were described in the headlines of several YouTube videos that captured the arrests as “police brutality.”

Requests for comment from the NYPD were not returned by press time.

According to an online blog, some Pandamonium participants were behaving destructively, overturning news stands and trash receptacles.

“I was very impressed with our attendants again, as people who, like I mentioned earlier, had no prior experience, almost instinctually started dragging s—- out into the streets to stop the cops,” Panda wrote in an email message.

Anita Del Valle, a videographer who witnessed several of the arrests, captured on film a police officer pulling a man with a radio off the sidewalk and arresting him. She said the video clearly shows an officer slamming the man’s face into the pavement while restraining him. Del Valle also captured on video a police officer pushing her to the ground with his night stick while filming.

“There’s all these people going ‘What is your badge number’ with video cameras and [the NYPD doesn’t] know what to do,” Del Valle told this paper. “They’re used to enforcing and policing with an excessive use of power. Now, they don’t know how to react and they’re angry about it.”

Saturday night, participants of the event gathered at Union Square at approximately 8:30 p.m., many of them clad in panda costumes and wielding radios, and then proceeded to take the L train to Bedford Avenue with their final destination, according to the Pandamonium group’s website, being North 3rd Street and Kent Avenue.

Panda said this will be the first and last Pandamonium, as he thinks police officers will now have heightened notice of the panda symbol. He said there will be events to come, but they will have a new name and theme.

This month happens to mark the 20th anniversary of another mass gathering – the Tompkins Square Park Riot, in which citizens, many of them homeless, protested a curfew imposed in the park by the City of New York and several people were injured by police officers.

Updated 3:44 pm, October 19, 2011
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