Friday, October 28, 2011

The Latest From Zuccotti Park's OWS Protests and an Albany Update

Overnight, the New York metro area got hit with quite a bit of rain, and it turned a whole lot colder. That cold will last through the weekend, and weather forecasts are putting snow in the forecast for Saturday. While the suburbs north and west are being threatened with 6 inches or more of snow, the city itself is likely to see a dusting to an inch at most.

It will be a most unpleasant situation for those trying to tough out the protests at Zuccotti Park. Making it even more difficult is the FDNY and NYPD, who have confiscated generators and propane and gas tanks and other equipment as fire hazards and are looking for fire code violations.
The FDNY were looking for safety violations. At issue: Propane tanks and gas generators being used to keep the protesters warm. The inspection, involving dozens of firefighters, was overseen by Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano.

Protesters turned over six generators and dozens of gasoline cans, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. He reiterated that the protesters can stay as long as they want, provided that they follow the law. Bloomberg spoke on his weekly radio show on WOR.

Earlier this week, fire officials had raised concerns to the city about potential fire hazards in the park, especially as the temperature drops. Protesters are using tents, sleeping bags, and more to help them stay warm. It will be interesting to see how the protesters cope this weekend, when New York City may get its first snow of the season – even if it is expected to be just trace amounts.

While the temperature is dropping in the city, things may be heating up between protesters and the police. Thursday, the head of the NYPD’s Sergeants’ Union issued a warning to demonstrators.

He says protest-related incidents that leave cops injured could be met with civil lawsuits.

That warning came after escalating violence at Occupy demonstrations around the country.
While the NYPD unions are threatening lawsuits against those that attack police officers, I also expect a slew of suits against the police department on grounds that they violated the protesters civil rights or used undue amounts of force to subdue protesters. Some of those cases may be valid, but each will take time to investigate. Already, one such incident resulted in a police officer being reassigned after he used pepper spray against a protester inappropriately.

Meanwhile, a Fox 5 NY reporter, John Huddy was threatened with an assault by a protester who was angry and otherwise incoherent. NYPD arrested the person, and Huddy was quick to point out that protesters' reactions to him have been generally friendly and accommodating. Huddy has been covering the protests on a daily basis from Zuccotti Park along with a handful of other reporters, so he's a known quantity down there to the protest "spokespeople".

I expect some to use the Huddy incident as an indictment of the whole, but as Huddy notes, that's the exception to the general rule among the protesters.

Meanwhile, upstate in Albany (where there's also snow in the forecast and much colder weather, people marchedfrom the Occupy Albany encampment in Lafayette Park near the State Capitol to to the War Room, protesting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s support for letting a surcharge on high income New Yorkers expire.

Another issue that is a hot-button topic for the protesters is hydrofracking, and while Mayor Jerry Jennings is supportive of the OWS Albany protests (including resisting calls from Gov. Cuomo to disperse the protesters from the park), he's vetoed a city ban on hydrofracking. Jennings correctly notes that the state has yet to promulgate rules on hydrofracking and it's premature to take an action when the state is going through the process of setting rules.

While some local politicians have supported the OWS movement, others are warily moving in the other direction, including Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver, whose district includes Zuccotti Park.
Silver, at the same time, tried to distance himself from the Occupy Wall Street protesters encamped in his Lower Manhattan district.
“I don’t consider them political allies,” he told reporters after an unrelated news conference in Manhattan. “The people have a right to be heard . . . But I also believe that neighbors have a right to enjoy their homes as well.”
That's even as he supports extending the millionaire's tax surcharge for New Yorkers.

As to the threat of the police suing protesters who attack cops, there's a few interrelated issues. One would be that workers comp would likely supersede the civil action to recover from the defendant in a legal action. However, if a civil action can proceed, it would be like any other assault/battery case in NY. The police officer, as the plaintiff would have the burden of showing that the defendant assaulted him or her.

Thing is that we usually don't get such warnings when police officers are injured in the line of duty (such things happen all the time). We don't hear about a cop suing a drug dealer who shoots and injures the cop in the line of duty - yet they're going after these protesters with a threat of a lawsuit. That's pretty ballsy.

In a related note, Chris Nolan is filming the next installment of his Batman series in New York City over the next few days and may include some background shots of the protesters at Zuccotti Park in some fashion. After his New York appearances, the Dark Knight will find his way to Newark for more exterior shots.

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