NEW YORK — Dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested Saturday after they scaled a chain-link fence or crawled under it to get to an Episcopal church-owned lot they want to use for a new camp site.
Protesters used a wooden ladder to scale the fence or lifted it from below while others cheered them on. A man wearing a Santa suit stood on the ladder among others, as they ignored red "Private Property" signs.
As officers made arrests, protesters shouted obscenities and hollered: "Make them catch you!" The group was inside the lot for a short time before being led out by police in single file through a space in the fence. About 50 people were arrested, police said.
"We're just trying to say that this country has gone in the wrong direction, and we need spaces that we can control and we can decide our future in, and that's what this is about," said David Suker, who was among those who scaled the fence.
Before the arrests, several hundred gathered in Duarte Square, a half-acre wedge of a park at the edge of Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood and across the street from the vacant lot. They gathered partly to mark the three-month anniversary of the Occupy movement and partly to demand use of the lot, owned by Trinity Church.
The original Occupy Wall Street camp in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan was shut down last month. Trinity is a Zuccotti Park neighbor that helped demonstrators assemble, and provided them shelter in the three months since the movement began. The day after authorities moved in and cleaned out Zuccotti Park, about a dozen protesters went to the vacant lot, clipped the fence at the church-owned property and were arrested, along with some journalists.
Since then, some Occupy protesters have launched a bid to gain the church's consent for them to use the space. Trinity's Rev. James H. Cooper said giving the protesters access to the lot would not be a safe or smart move.
"There are no facilities at the Canal Street lot. Demanding access and vandalizing the property by a determined few OWS protesters won't alter the fact that there are no basic elements to sustain an encampment," he wrote in a statement. "The health, safety and security problems posed by an encampment here, compounded by winter weather, would dwarf those experienced at Zuccotti Park."
On Friday, the top bishop of the Episcopal Church asked protesters not to trespass on the property. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori warned it could result in "legal and police action."
Trinity Church dates back to the colonial era and was a refuge for relief workers after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. A sculpture out front was made out of a giant sycamore tree destroyed on 9/11.
"I feel it is very much in keeping with the tradition over the years of Trinity to work with poor people, to help poor people," said Stephen Chinlund, 77, a retired Episcopalian priest and one of several at the square Saturday.
Chinlund held a sign that read: Trinity, hero of 9/11, be a hero again!"
Associated Press broadcast newsperson Julie Walker contributed to this report.