Washington Square Park SOS Instagram keeps tabs on police and predators
By Sophie Astor
For most Instagram users, the perfect place to snap selfies or post pictures of the city’s gilded youth sporting alternative fashions is in front of the iconic landmarks of Washington Square Park. For the owner of the Instagram account @washingtonsquareparksos, it’s a tool to monitor police activity and warn artists and sellers of impending crackdowns.
@washingtonsquareparksos, which posts videos of arrests and scuffles with police, has gained over 500 followers and been shared with hundreds more since its first post in January. It also earned the account owner more than a few enemies. She declined to be identified due to the constant harassment and death threats she says she receives from strangers.
“People are surrounded and intimidated by large groups of cops over Bluetooth speakers, trying to sell clothes,” @washingtonsquareparksos explained. “I’m posting to care about the park community and to show them they can have a voice, they can fight this attack on their livelihood.”
The police presence in Washington Square Park has intensified since Mayor Eric Adams took office in January. While some residents appreciate the attention, many park residents say police enforcement of minor quality of life violations is highly arbitrary, sometimes involving excessive force.
“Some people may say I’m too political, but I think that’s ridiculous,” said @washingtonsquareparksos. “It’s not about being political. It’s about having a moral, being ethical. She checks in with vendors and street performers in the park daily to keep up to date with what’s going on. Eric Cook, who has been selling his art in the park for years, says his account plays an important role in bringing attention to the situation in the park. “Everything the police do here is capricious; they can move anyone at any time for any reason,” Cook said. The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment.
Calista Sheehan, a 22-year-old park regular, says she started following the account because it also warns of known sexual harassers and other potentially dangerous people lurking in the park. Adam Ellis, who sells paintings and T-shirts, likes @washingtonsquareparksos because the police tend to ignore what’s really important. “There are people stealing artists’ money, people using hard drugs here every day, and I don’t see the cops bothering them,” Ellis said. “The narrative shows who they are really cracking down on, and it’s the salesmen, the bikers, the musicians.”
But Ellis said there were also things he didn’t like about @washingtonsquareparksos. “The awareness is amazing, but the account can be a very negative place. There’s a lot of fighting, a lot of shouting, and I think you have to spread some positivity as well,” he said.
@washingtonsquareparksos, accepts this criticism but says she’s happy to do things her own way. In his videos, he can usually be heard aggressively shouting at the police behind the camera.
“I curse, I speak loudly, I know the police hate me, but I’m not here to make the idea of a perfect activist come true,” she said. “It’s my account, and I do what I want. I want to capture real emotions that the community can relate to.