Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
The majority of the 79 protesters who appeared in Manhattan court Thursday to face charges on disorderly conduct stemming from a September protest march refused prosecutors' offers to dismiss the charges if they stay out of trouble for six months.
Prosecutors say the demonstrators blocked traffic and prevented pedestrians from getting by during the September 24 march to Union Square.
But many of the protesters say the disorderly conduct charges weren't justified. They say they stayed on the sidewalk, took care to leave a path for others to get through and followed police instructions.
“What happened this morning was a rather amazing outpouring of sentiment on the people accused to say I want a trial I didn’t do anything,” said attorney Martin Stolar, who represented the majority of the protesters. “I want to continue protesting,” is the message he said they were sending.
Those who turned down the offer were released without bail, and their motions to dismiss the case are due in early Dec., followed by a court appearance on January 9.
The protesters were well behaved in court, and the only time a warning was issued, was when applause broke out after a reporter for WNET was dismissed. Video evidence showed that he did have his press badge displayed and therefore had not broken the law.
According to Stolar his clients followed police directions, “and did what they were told to do, and then got arrested for following police directions.” If found guilty they could face a 15-day jail sentence and a total fine of about $620.
About 14 of the 79 didn't show up for court. A judge issued arrest warrants but stayed them for now.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there are reports that Occupy Wall Street protesters are allowing crimes to go unreported and are instead chasing perpetrators out into the city's streets.Bloomberg called the practice "despicable" but said the city has not been able to confirm the reports. He says that if it's true, the protesters are making the city less safe.
The nearly 800 protesters who were arrested the following week on the Brooklyn Bridge will occupy the courtroom for several dates in November, where Stolar, who is representing many of them, will file the same applications and expects his clients will also demand a trial.