Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NYPD Clears Zuccotti Park of Protesters In Dead of Night

The New York Police Department moved in overnight and cleared out Zuccotti Park, home to the Occupy Wall Street protests since September 17.

At least 70 people were arrested for resisting NYPD officers who cleared Zuccotti Park near Wall Street and the World Trade Center site in New York City. The NYPD moved in on the park in the dead of night, taking protesters off-guard. Most of the protesters offered no resistance, but some refused to clear from the park, tying themselves to trees or each other.
The protesters, about 200 of whom have been staying in the park overnight, initially resisted with chants of “Whose park? Our park!”

The massive operation in and around Zuccotti Park was intended to empty the birthplace of a protest movement that has inspired hundreds of tent cities from coast to coast. On Monday in Oakland, Calif., hundreds of police officers raided the main encampment there, arresting 33 people. Protesters returned later in the day. But the Oakland police said no one would be allowed to sleep there anymore, and promised to clear a second camp nearby.

The police action was quickly challenged as lawyers for the protesters obtained a temporary restraining order barring the city and the park’s private landlord from evicting protesters or removing their belongings. It was not immediately clear how the city would respond. The judge, Justice Lucy Billings of State Supreme Court Judge in Manhattan, scheduled a hearing for later Tuesday.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who scheduled a news conference for Tuesday morning, had issued a statement explaining the reasoning behind the sweep. “The law that created Zuccotti Park required that it be open for the public to enjoy for passive recreation 24 hours a day,” the mayor said in the statement. “Every since the occupation began, that law has not been complied with” because the protesters had taken over the park, “making it unavailable to anyone else.”

“I have become increasingly concerned – as had the park’s owner, Brookfield Properties – that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protestors and to the surrounding community,” Mr. Bloomberg said. He added that on Monday, Brookfield asked the city to assist in enforcing “the no sleeping and camping rules.

“But make no mistake,” the mayor said, “the final decision to act was mine.”Some of the displaced protesters regrouped a few blocks away at Foley Square, with the row of courthouses on Centre Street as a backdrop and police officers looking on. The protesters swapped stories of their confrontations with the police and talked about what to do next.

One protester at Foley Square, Nate Barchus, 23, said the eviction was likely to galvanize supporters, particularly because a series of gatherings had already been planned for Thursday, the protest’s two-month anniversary.

“This,” he said, referring to the early-morning sweep, “reminds everyone who was occupying exactly why they were occupying.”

At the park they had occupied since mid-September, workers using power washers blasted water over the stone that covers the ground. Soon the park caught the attention of people passing by on their way to work who had become accustomed to seeing the protesters’ tents and tarps.
The protests have accomplished little in the way of tangible progress although they have managed to highlight income inequality.

The park will be reopened to the public, but no one will be allowed to remain overnight.

Many of the protesters who left Zuccotti Park made their way to Foley Square, which is where state and federal courthouses are located. I doubt that they'll remain there for long and either take the show over to Union Square or Washington Square Parks. Some may try to make their way back to Zuccotti Park, but I don't expect to see another encampment there although a judge signed an order not only allowing the protesters to return to the park, but that they can take their tents with them.

Click to enlarge: Read the full court order

I think the judge is misreading the law and has taken an overly expansive view of free speech that infringes on the rights of the property owners (Brookfield Properties) whose rights are being trampled by not being able to maintain their own property because the protesters have squatted on them.

Businesses in the immediate area may breath a sigh of relief as the Zuccotti Park protesters have made a mess of sidewalks as barricades have limited access and some restaurants have lost significant business. Yet, the protests were largely confined to the park; it was when the protests marched off to other locations that mayhem (mostly arrests for disorderly conduct) ensued. In some respects, it would be easier to leave the protesters in place and deal with the security situation there rather than let the protesters disperse and find their way in to other locations, such as Wall Street itself.

Some protesters have vowed to shut down Wall Street Thursday, which sets up another potential confrontation with the NYPD. The clearing of Zuccotti Park may have been done in anticipation of those expected marches/protests at the NYSE on Thursday, but may not have the intended effect.

Still, it's interesting to note that for all of the press coverage of the OWS protests, we're talking about all of a couple hundred people at most engaging in protests at any one time in Zuccotti Park. From that perspective, the ability to garner press to the degree it has is quite remarkable even if the message has been more than muddled about what the protests sought to accomplish.

It's also important to note that there are distinctions between the OWS movement in Zuccotti Park and those in other cities or overseas, where there have been more violent confrontations than here in New York City. Part of that can be attributed to how Zuccotti Park's protesters have "organized" but part of that has to do with the nature of who has been attracted to the protests.

The number arrested is now closer to 200.

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