The back and forth between the police and the protesters in Union Square followed this pattern: the police would pick someone out to arrest. The reason for the arrest was often unclear. One fellow was pulled over because of a shirt he was wearing - the usual scatological references to the President's last name and the V.P.s name in various combinations. (It is possible he looked like the guy who was on video tape kicking a cop from his scooter last night.)
Once the arrest became noticed, scores of hungry (myself included) media swarmed down for that possible once in a lifetime shot. Then other protesters swarmed down shouting to let whoever it was go.
And then - the big swarm of blue, usually riot-clad, police did their swarm dance. Then there would be this palpable tension - a standstill while the white-shirts (the higher-ups for the police) decided what to do next.
I was standing on the grass behind the fence while the first arrest was happening - and an officer began to yell at me - telling me that I needed to get off the grass or I'd be arrested. He also made a remark about how I was hurting the grass (I kid you not). So, being the fearless reporter that I am, I immediately backed off along with some other photographers. We exchanged a laugh about it, and then I said, I'm going to sneak back and hide behind that tree. Which is what I did and several followed. By then, the attention of the police had focused back to the arrest scene (which is what I figured would happen).
The arrest was made. The arrestee was dragged off through a gaunlet of cops. But there was still this standstill. Then the white shirts came in. Usually after a conference. And then the police backed off. This was the pattern.
What is odd, is that it feels as if the police are split into two camps. Those lower in rank, must have been given orders to arrest suspicious characters (that could be anyone) - and the brass had been given orders to make sure there wasn't a riot, which there could have been at several points.
I saw the same pattern when the bikers came by, later in the day. At first they weren't allowed to move down Broadway. Then the crowd chanted. Then the police let them proceed. And a big roar of victory from the protesters.
As of this morning, there have been about 1100 arrests.
It all seemed like a chess game.