A World AIDS Day march tied to the Occupy Wall Street movement ended with police detaining and taking away at least eight protesters for blocking traffic in downtown Manhattan Thursday.
The protesters, five of whom were chained together, were stretched across the entire length of Broadway in front of City Hall Park and dressed in Robin Hood costumes. They greeted other protesters in a surprise ending to the march, which went from Zuccotti Park to Broadway and Park Place.
“It makes me really happy and proud to see people getting arrested for such a cause,” said Michael Tikili of Brooklyn.
Police at the scene could not confirm if the protesters who were taken away would face any charges.
Housing Works, a non-profit that advocates for health and homeless causes through charity and other work, organized the protest. Other AIDS related organizations, Health GAP, Queerocracy and VOCAL-NY, also took part in the event. Its purpose was to demand more funding for access to AIDS care in New York and worldwide.
Around a dozen police and other NYPD officials quickly descended on the march and brought it to its dramatic end. They demanded that marchers and other spectators stay on the sidewalk while they tried to get the chained Robin Hoods out of the street.
One protester lay down on the pavement, and police promptly dragged him out of the street and into an NYPD van. Police placed at least two other protesters in the same van.
At that point, the five chained protesters remained, blocking just one of the street’s lanes. Police used a large tool to cut their chain before handcuffing them and loading them into the van.
Some of the march’s other participants were also dressed as Robin Hood, famous for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. The outfits were a reference
to a “Robin Hood” Financial Transaction Tax, which would tax the transactions of banks, hedge funds and other financial services companies.
Tikili, who is HIV positive, is an international AIDS activist for Health GAP and a member of Queer Occupy Wall Street. He supports a Robin Hood Tax because he believes it could generate a lot of money for AIDS care and prevention.
Last year, Housing Works organized a protest on World AIDS Day that featured protesters dressed as “boycotting bagels,” a reference to Mayor Bloomberg’s annual World AIDS Day bagel breakfast.
The 2010 protest took place outside the Brooklyn Public Library where the breakfast was held. According to the New York Times, nine protesters were arrested that year for blocking traffic outside the event.
On its blog, Housing Works refers to the breakfast as a “sham.” Miguel Mendez, Senior Vice President of Operations for Housing Works, who was at Thursday’s march, explained that the Mayor only holds an event like the breakfast once a year, and keeps cutting money from services that help those with HIV and AIDS.
The organization is upset with the city for cutting spending for HIV/AIDS housing and services.
A November fiscal brief put out by the New York City Independent Budget Office said that because of “the increasing fiscal difficulties faced by the city as well as reductions in state and federal funding over the last few years, [the Human Resources Administration], like other city agencies, has been required to propose several rounds of actions to reduce city spending at its programs including [the HIV/AIDS Services Administration's (HASA)]. As a result of these actions, HASA spending per case fell slightly in 2010 and more significantly in 2011.”
The spending per case of those receiving services from the HASA decreased 3.3 percent in 2011, the brief said.
Housing Works also criticizes Bloomberg’s opposition to 30 percent rent cap affordable housing legislation, which would limit the percentage those in subsidized housing with AIDS or HIV are required to pay from their public benefits towards rent.
The fight for more AIDS care funding is particularly important for Brooklyn.
Statistics from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene show that in 2009 Brooklyn was the borough with the highest number of HIV diagnoses.
About seven years ago Housing Works relocated their headquarters to the borough because of the rise in AIDS cases there, said Mendez.
He said the disease has become more prominent in Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville and East New York.
According to the African American Planning Commission, a nonprofit that addresses issues such as AIDS and domestic violence, HIV diagnoses are 30 percent higher in East New York and New Lots than the citywide rate.
March participants were not only concerned with local AIDS issues. They also wanted to bring awareness to AIDS funding worldwide.
Last week, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced that “it will not be in a position to fund additional new grants that would allow a further expansion of its health programs between now and the end of 2013, unless all pledged resources are paid to the Fund during that period.”
Globally new HIV infections have decreased 15 percent in the past decade and AIDS-related deaths have dropped 22 percent in the last five years because of greater access to HIV services, according to the latest report by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and UNAIDS Report on the Global HIV/AIDS Response.
The World Health Organization established the first World AIDS Day on December 1, 1988 to raise global awareness about the disease.
On this year’s World AIDS Day, Housing Works decided to join forces with Occupy Wall Street because it believes it will bring a stronger message, said Mendez.
Tikili believes the AIDS cause has good reason to be part of Occupy Wall Street because it’s the first movement that is all-encompassing. “Who doesn’t fall into the 99 percent?” he said.
Mendez recognizes that there are many people and causes in need, and that the economy is hurting. But he believes advocating for the disenfranchised with AIDS actually helps bring attention to helping all the disenfranchised.
In addition to unemployment, he added, other important issues, like AIDS, should be addressed.
Mendez said that he hoped to see around 500 people at Thursday’s march. About half that number came to participate.
But those who did come showed strong enthusiasm for the cause as they waited in front of Zuccotti Park for the protest to begin.
Before the march, people distributed pink T-shirts that said “END AIDS NOW,” red AIDS ribbons and signs that said things such as “TAX WALL STREET, END AIDS.”
Others also handed out a “chant sheet” that included the words “People with AIDS are under attack, what do we do? ACT UP fight back!”
Also, several speakers, some afflicted with the disease, gave short speeches before the march, with the audience chanting back every word that each speaker said.