The Washington Square Park Autonomous Zone

Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York

Washington Square Park, a green space of historic societal and cultural events and a pleasant environment to sit in solitude or socialize. A place where the likes of Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsburg hung out on the regular, nurturing the scenes of the nascent folk phenomenon and the beat poet movement that would change and influence music and literature forever. WSP would continue for decades to be a destination for all kinds of progressive demonstrations and protests, a place to play an intense game of chess and a convenient place to score a bag of weed, which continues to this very day.

But with the pandemic seemingly fading into the past after a year of collective seclusion and restrictive guidelines, a new history in a very short amount of time has unfolded and it’s one of upheaval and civil unrest and societal decay, with hard drug abuse being consumed in broad daylight and DJ ragers late at night even after the parks closing time. The new generation of denizens as turned the WSP into a governor’s ball festival every night.

Although the general consternation about how Washington Square has become a veritable den of iniquity, the park has been actually going downhill for about a year now since the pandemic began and was initiated by a sole homeless man name John Meshefski  claimed and occupied the then cordoned off area around the fountain for about 2 months in the late spring and strutted around nude like he was the last man on earth. Not long after as pandemic guidelines were slowly lifted, NYU students started to throw the first of the weekend all night DJ ragers with zero repression from the NYPD.

This spring and summer, with pandemic restrictions gone, residents of the WSP area have come to find this nightly occupation of the park the biggest threat to the neighborhood since Robert Moses threatened to plow over it with asphalt for vehicular traffic. Which as exacerbated since Mayor de Blasio’s decision to defer his authority to the NYPD to take proactive measures and institute a 10 p.m. curfew which led to total chaos as revelers fought with cops trying to get back in and then got chased across Noho.  The failure of that initiative has led to even more nightly baccanalias with booze fueled raves. Despite the claims of community vibes unhampered by police intervention, blowback from brazen park violating activity led to two people getting slashed during one of these ragers, aping what happens on occasion at your regular nite clubs.

Village residents fed up with the NYPD’s alarming insouciance after the failed curfew, the Chief Rodney Harrison and other high brass cops arranged a town hall meeting with them to tell them that their concerns would be addressed (actually they are complaints). The NYC Parks commissioner also gave a token assurance to the frustrated audience that the cops will have a more robust presence to tamp down noise and other illicit behavior. Meanwhile outside, a crowd of advocates for the hard partiers gathered and held there own town hall on the street and got into virulent debates with residential passerby.

Then when Friday arrived, all that was said and promised by Harrison or other high brass cops to bring back a semblance of normalcy to Washington Square Park yielded nothing. But there were other things going on during the day and night’s festivities that were interesting.

Arriving the official start of the weekend at 5 P.M. and got immediately hit with an infernal racket of some guy screaming and warbling into a microphone. Upon closer inspection and it was none other than the big Meshefski himself from last year’s New York Post chronicles of his occupation and naked frolicking. Mr. Meshefski, still homeless and clearly not of sound mind (although he can afford a mic and an amplifier) was singing and cursing up a cacaphonic storm for about 30 minutes until NYC Parks Police arrived and stunningly let him finish his a crapella routine instead of confiscating his speaker and detaining him.

Despite the stunning lack of reasonable repression, the Parks cops strategy worked and Mr. Mishefski complied and shut his mic down and departed from the fountain, but he resumed his racket on the promenade when other people started blaring music full blast.

Despite the cacophony it wasn’t that oppressive if you walked to other spaces (although I’m sure the sound carries in the ether above and outside) and seen people selling their creative wares, people exercising their religious beliefs and bump into a few busking musicians. Or what our local elected leaders like to refer to as “vibrancy in action”. Not to be crotchety, but people ruin things when they turn things like enjoying a day in the park into talking points.

Anyway, to quote any regular citizen, it was all good.

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Although there was hardly any shooting up or crack smoking (probably have to show up early in the day to check out Wash Sq. Hampsterdam), people smoking pot and drinking booze were being done discreetly just as during the days of Giuliani and Bloomberg time when there was a NYPD command post parked at 4th St. All in all, the scene at WSP was copacetic. As for the cops, their presence was astonishingly small considering what they told residents a few nights before.

And right at sundown, came the motor scooters…

This gang would come in spurts throughout the day and night, riding around the fountain and by people sitting on benches with total impunity. The predominant demographics of young and youngish people at the park didn’t mind them at all, and some older holdover park goers handled it with visible jadedness.

Although obnoxious and disturbing, these bikers  wasn’t the most outlier presence going on in the park, as there was something here amongst the free-for-all going on in Washington Square that actually stood out and explained all this commotion and illicit behavior was going down here.

Situated in the back of the Arch entrance, a bunch of chairs and a picnic table was set up by a group of White women and men and it was suddenly covered with dozens of pizza pies. It was a wonder how they thought they were going to get away with selling food without a visible license or permit but that theory went south after it was revealed that they were giving away pizza slices for free.

They were also giving away free water, clothes, books and menstrual products as we

According to the chalk bulletin and agitprop on the concrete, this charity drive was arranged by an organization known as WSP Mutual Aid which to be presumptuous is some kind of non-profit group to help the poor and needy.

Upon further observation, the people who were partaking in all this charity were not even poor people, but everyone that was hanging at the park at the time. Everyone under 30. And upon a little more observation, this charity org doesn’t like cops at all.

The scene around this gathering was also accompanied by a gaggle of photographers and some journalists, probably here to cover the potential clash between the people and the cops once the park’s scheduled closing arrived at midnight.

But at the moment darkness fill the sky, it got foreboding on the ground. High brass officers and cops showed up with a bunch of barricades and started cordoning off the Arch and part of the entrance/exit ways. It looked like they were going to honor the Village residents complaints and make a serious move the quell the festivities going on in the park.

Not exactly, what they actually did is made a fortress around the arch in order to protect it from vandals. Then all the cops went inside the barricades and stood guard under it and stayed put, so they basically and willingly put themselves into a pig pen. (Surprisingly no one noticed that at the time.)

 

After they did this, the cops stood down inside there and the park got more raucous and the bass got louder as a rager manifested on the south east side of the park and it was lit up. Literally, lit up.

As the minutes got closer to midnight, the park was still at peak vibrancy. The park denizens didn’t even notice or gave a damn about the NYPD’s presence. Amongst the cacophony of cranked music and loud chatter of the thousands of people in the park that night, the WSP Mutual Fund distinctively stuck out. Instead of packing up their goods as the parks closing time was getting closer, they maintained their makeshift community station and more people assembled in their space. Plus they ordered more pizza to give away for free and laid out more free clothes to grab.

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What’s going on here in Washington Square Park is in all essence an autonomous zone. Everything that’s happening is similar in spirit to the CHAZ movement in Seattle. Complete with music performances and an independent marketplace.

The difference being is that its all being ironically monitored and chaperoned by the NYPD. Another ironic thing is the brazen and glaring issue that all this free grub and apparel were obviously not going to the needy because there were any homeless people around at all. The only people enjoying the charity was the revelry. The only thing this WSP Mutual Fund organization is doing is brazenly enabling the nightly rackets and after hours loitering.

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Apparently, the only thing this WSP Mutual Fund and their donors and benefactors are actually contributing here is to make Washington Square Park a local and free version of a Bonaroo or Lollapalooza festival and a complete takeover of public space, which they ironically accuse Greenwich Village residents of doing all because they are disturbed by the noise and potential violence every night.

It’s 12 AM, do you know where your abolitionists are?

When the clock struck twelve, voices coming from the WSP mutual fund crowd were yelling “whose park, our park” and the cops stood at ease. (Well, actually they were just having conversations or texting and reading celly messages). And the noise in the park was still at a high level, but the atmosphere was somewhat a version of calm. But about 40 minutes later, a man decided to settle an argument with some other fellows by whipping out a knife and flashlight shaped taser, which caused a stamped of people fleeing the scene and wound up bloodying and bruising a woman who happened to be taking a stroll with a friend.

It may be hard to believe, but cops stepped out from their post and dutifully arrested the perp and escorted him out of the park and people returned to the park and resumed partying down after the harrowing incident. So what Chief Harrison has done with his promise to the residents in the Village here to mitigate the nightly ruckus was to have the NYPD act as glorified security guards of the Arch and glorified bouncers for the Washington Square Park autonomous zone.

It isn’t like Chief Harrison lied to these people, because this is the city’s policy regarding the contentious issue that is the WSPAZ; for Mayor de Blasio, who has been on a lysergic dementia high lately, is relying on his certainty that the cacophony and violence is going to find a way to naturally fade away. Plus this deranged theory is in lockstep with his deranged narrative that the aurally volatile environment happening in the park every night is confirmation of the city’s recovery. It’s no wonder why sociopaths like this event promoter is mocking the NYPD and the Village residents by telling them to move out and organizing boxing matches by the Arch.

They can try their hardest, but look at how many people are here,” said Olivia Stevens, an 18-year-old college student from New Jersey, who comes to the park “because the suburbs are boring and my friends and I have nothing else to do.”

“Nothing is going to stop us from showing up,” she said.

If there is any wonder where Police Commissioner Dermot Shea has been regarding this, all he can do is feebly vent because his boss The Blaz, who has been  will not let anything disrupt his hashtag Summer of NYC initiative and will do anything to keep his delusory version of Fun City devolve into Fear City. So the Washington Square Park Autonomous Zone is going to remain as long as the nights are still heated.

The park is theirs.

 

 

 

 

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