By Sophia Astor
For most people who use Instagram, the perfect place to take selfies or post photos of the city’s golden youth sporting alternative fashions is in front of the iconic landmarks in Washington Square Park. For the owner of the @washingtonsquareparksos Instagram account, it’s a tool for monitoring police activity and to warn artists and vendors of impending crackdowns.
@washingtonsquareparksos, which posts videos of arrests and scuffles with police, has gained over 500 followers and has been shared with hundreds more since its first post in January. It has also earned the account’s owner more than a few enemies. She declined to be identified because of the constant harassment and death threats she says she receives from strangers.
“People are getting surrounded and intimidated by big groups of cops over Bluetooth speakers, over trying to sell clothes,” @washingtonsquareparksos explained. “I post to look out for the park community and to show them that they can have a voice, they can fight this attack on their livelihood.”
Police presence in Washington Square Park has ramped up since Mayor Eric Adams took office in January. While some residents appreciate the attention, many of the park’s denizens say police enforcement of minor quality of life violations is highly arbitrary, sometimes involving excessive force.
“Some people may say I’m being too political, but I think that’s ridiculous,” said @washingtonsquareparksos. “It’s not about being political. It’s about having morals, being ethical.” She checks in with the park’s vendors and street artists daily to keep up with what’s going down. Eric Cook, who’s been selling his art in the park for years, says her account plays an important role by calling attention to the situation in the park. “Everything the police enforce here is capricious; they can move anybody at any time for any reason,” said Cook. 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 prowling the park. Adam Ellis, who sells paintings and T-shirts, likes @washingtonsquareparksos because police tend to ignore what is actually important. “There are people who steal money from performers, people who do hard drugs here every day, and I don’t see the cops bothering them,” said Ellis. “The account shows who they’re really cracking down on, and it’s the vendors, the bikers, the musicians.”
But Ellis said there are also things that he doesn’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 yelling, and I think some positivity needs to be spread, too,” he said.
@washingtonsquareparksos, accepts that criticism but says she’s happy doing things her own way. In her videos, she can usually be heard yelling aggressively at the police from behind the camera.
“I curse, I’m loud, I know the police hate me, but I’m not here to fulfill the idea of a perfect activist,” she said. “It’s my account, and I do what I please. I want to capture real emotions that the community can relate to.”