Who Smashed the Laptops from Occupy Wall Street? Inside the NYPD's Lost and Found

If you’re looking to recover any personal effects swept up early Tuesday morning in the NYPD raid on Zuccotti Park, epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, there’s only one place that may have what you’re looking for. Only it doesn’t have a...

Nov 18 2011, 6:50pm

If you're looking to recover any personal effects swept up early Tuesday morning in the NYPD raid on Zuccotti Park, epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, there's only one place that may have what you're looking for. Only it doesn't have a marked address.

The Department of Sanitation has a brand new building. Situated at 650 W. 57th Street – the corner of 12th Ave. and 57th St., in the wastelandish Far West Side – Sanitation's address is only marked on the 57th St. side, with no sign or anyone around to point out the recovery booth, which is around the back side in a stark, wind-tunnel underpass. (To be sure, this Sanitation press release gives a run down for all those looking to recover property.)

This is where we find Isaac Wilder, head of the Free Network Foundation, late Thursday morning. Wilder, who we first met on Day 3 of the occupation, is an integral part of OWS' Signal Corps, a working group that had been dedicated to providing free Wi-Fi to demonstrators within Zuccotti. During the raid, all of Wilder's stuff, including the FNF's Freedom Tower, a thin, maybe nine-foot-tall pole, loaded on all sides with nondescript routers that had been beaming out wireless access since early on in the occupation, was confiscated not long after he and another 200 or so protestors were hauled away after barricading themselves in the middle of the park. Matt LiPani, a Sanitation representative, tells us that in the raid's aftermath 151 Sanitation workers carted away the belongings to 650 W. 57th St. in "our collection trucks."

And so now, at the unmarked underpass entrance, Wilder's looking for his backpack, and his Freedom Tower. And $5000 in cash. This is all the money he has.

No press is being allowed in to check out what we quickly hear is a large heap of damp, mangled, cat-piss smelling stuff. So Wilder heads in on his own at around 10:30 AM, turning back to us and giving a quick, solemn head-nod before disappearing inside.

After about 30 minutes he sends us a text: "no sign of tower or backpack." When he finally surfaces after another 30 minutes, descending a staircase into the howling, drabish underpass, the face gives it away.

Wilder hasn't slept much in the last 36 hours. He looks shelled, haggard. He told us earlier how he and many others affiliated with the Signal Corps were held in a separate "dungeon-like" cell below the main holding tank at 1 Police Plaza in Lower Manhattan beginning early Tuesday morning through Wednesday evening. But beyond that, his report from inside the heap holds true: No backpack. No cash. No tower.

Worse, it was as if someone along the way purposefully destroyed all confiscated electronics, a strategic smashing of at least part of the digital record logged by full-on occupiers. "Dude, all the laptops are in a row," he tells us, baffled and raking his shock of brown hair. "They've all been smashed with bats." When asked about the mangled property, LiPani admits that, inevitably, certain items could've been damaged in the shuffle: "I'm not surprised," he says, to hear of damaged laptops. He adds that the DSNY is providing clearance forms to those occupiers concerned their property may've been mishandled or misplaced.

But Wilder wants footage – visual proof to show to whoever it is he hopes will step up, legally, to defend the FNF. Hell, we want footage. At some risk, admittedly, we hand him an iPhone. He heads back inside.

Resurfacing a few minutes later, he shows us these:

It's exactly two months into "Occupy," now a global movement. Until now, Wilder has been staunchly advocating for what he sees as something extending beyond the confines of any single occupied space: decentralized, open-source, free networks. He may very well still be all about that mission.

But something just seems off. Something has shifted – in Wilder, in OWS. "Maybe we don't need the tower," he admits, a marked repositioning of what we've come to know of this well-spoken 21-year-old college drop-out from Kansas City. Maybe an occupation doesn't need material components, he goes on. Maybe we don't need the park.

With that, as we all make way for the Columbus Circle subway, an older woman representing Zuccotti's Comfort Committee working group catches Wilder by the sleeve. She hands him a red scarf. It's brisk, windy. Low 40s.

"You see?" he says, turning to us while wrapping the wool snug around his neck. "You see what happens when you just let go? You get things."

by Brian A. Anderson and Erin Lee Carr, with additional reporting by Chris Gill. Reach Brian at brian@motherboard.tv. Follow Motherboard on Twitter.
Images via Isaac Wilder