Early Tuesday morning, New York police raided and evicted the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zucotti Park in southern Manhattan. The behavior of the NYPD and the mayor’s office, in ordering this brazen action while blocking the press and the public from reporting on the eviction, is a disgraceful display of unnecessary force on a protest that for the most part has behaved lawfully and respectfully throughout its two-month existence.
The last time the police planned to clear the park, they had announced the eviction ahead of time and gave people and press time to flood in. This time, the NYPD, clearly intent on avoiding as much scrutiny as possible, made no such “mistake.” According to reporter accounts on news Web sites and on Twitter, at around 1:00 a.m., police moved swiftly to isolate Zucotti from the outside world. The NYPD closed subway stops and streets around the park, and set up barricades to prevent people from joining the protest. Once inside the park, the police tore up the tents, and apparently ruined the belongings of the protesters who had turned the park into a makeshift city over the last two months. (Among other ruined items were 5000 books from the park’s library, the protesters’ Twitter feed points out.) Those who resisted were met with batons and pepper spray, reports Mother Jones’s Josh Harkinson; among others, New York City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez was arrested and bleeding from the head, according to another council member. Protesters were to be allowed back into the park, but the NYPD insisted they’d have to make do without tents, tarps or any other equipment essential to the occupation.
Bloomberg’s brazenness has only increased during the morning. At 6:30 a.m., Judge Lucy Billings issued an injunction “requiring the protesters to be readmitted to Zuccotti Park with their tents,” but Bloomberg has ignored the court order and kept the park closed. Protesters have marched to Zucotti Park, but are being barred from entrance despite displaying that court order to the police on site. At this time, the mayor’s office has not explained why it is ignoring the court order.
Most disturbingly, the NYPD sought to block any and all press from covering this eviction. On the ground, reporters were stopped at the barricades and refused entrance. Numerous journalists reported that cops refused to let them in, even pushing reporters away; reporters even Tweeted about getting arrested. In the air, NYPD helicopters refused to allow CBS News helicopters to film the eviction from above. As for the camera already in the park-OWS’s livestream-the police simply blocked it with a pile of torn-up tents.
The offered reasoning for the eviction? The same canard as the last time Bloomberg wanted to sweep away protesters: “public health and safety.” Never mind that Occupy Wall Street has continually cleaned the park itself, or that health experts who have visited the park have pronounced it sanitary, or that even Bloomberg could cite only one incident that threatened public safety in his statement about the eviction. No, such “facts” were turned away, just as the police sought to turn the media’s cameras elsewhere. All this while, as Matt Taibbi put it last week, “in the skyscrapers above the protests, anything goes.” Nobody arrested the bankers for pushing fraudulent loans and subprime mortgage investments, or the ratings agencies and government regulators that neglected their duties and helped Wall Street crash the global economy. But putting tents in a public park? Time to bring out the batons and pepper spray.
As hard as the NYPD and New York City’s government might try to obscure the truth though, one truth remains: At 1 a.m. this morning, in the heart of New York City, protesters exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly were swept away by the state, while that state also did all it could to prevent media coverage. No matter what one may think of the occupiers or their cause, nothing they’ve done justifies blockading the press or ignoring court orders. Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and other New York leaders who ordered the eviction should take a long, hard look at their handling of the occupation. This morning’s action may not be what a police state looks like, but it’s certainly how one begins.