The Occupy Wall Street camp in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan was cleared by police in an hours-long action Tuesday afternoon, yet by evening’s end a judge had ruled the protesters could return with one major difference: no tents. As AP reported :
Crackdowns against the Occupy Wall Street encampments across the country reached the epicenter of the movement Tuesday, when police rousted protesters from a Manhattan park and a judge ruled that their free speech rights do not extend to pitching a tent and setting up camp for months at a time.
It was a potentially devastating setback. If crowds of demonstrators return to Zuccotti Park, they will not be allowed to bring tents, sleeping bags and other equipment that turned the area into a makeshift city of dissent.
But demonstrators pledged to carry on with their message protesting corporate greed and economic inequality, either in Zuccotti or a yet-to-be chosen new home.
“This is much bigger than a square plaza in downtown Manhattan,” said Hans Shan, an organizer who was working with churches to find places for protesters to sleep. “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.”
State Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman upheld the city’s eviction of the protesters after an emergency appeal by the National Lawyers Guild.
The protesters have been camped out in the privately owned park since mid-September. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he ordered the sweep because health and safety conditions and become “intolerable” in the crowded plaza. The raid was conducted in the middle of the night “to reduce the risk of confrontation” and “to minimize disruption to the surrounding neighborhood,” he said.
By early Tuesday evening, some protesters were being allowed back into the park two by two. But they could each take only a small bag.
Later Tuesday, the protesters held a general assembly where they discussed topics including where and how to retrieve their belongings that had been swooped up in the raid and options for going forward, including appealing the judge’s decision.
Still, some protesters believed the loss of Zuccotti Park may be an opportunity to broaden and decentralize the protest to give it staying power.
The manner in which police departments across the country have reacted to these protesters and the camps that they have built on private and public land have played a major role in defining the Occupy movement. As Heather Gautney explained :
Over the past few weeks, increasingly irritated and trigger-happy local officials have received glimpses of “people power” as they’ve amped up efforts to clear Occupy camps around the country, including New York’s Zuccotti Park on Monday night. But if history tells us anything, it’s that unwieldy, nonviolent and relatively modest movements can actually take down giants—and that implements of force are no match for the collective will of the people.
Such acts of police aggression are fast becoming the shame of our nation. Intended to deter, they actually amplify the Occupy movement’s narrative of fighting domination and corruption.
New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s earlier campaign of intimidation backfired just weeks ago, when horrifying video of New York Police Department officers pepper-spraying screaming young girls at point-blank range appeared on TV stations around the globe.
Bad turned worse when protesters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, and more than 700 of them were trapped and arrested halfway. The mayor later threatened to close Zuccotti Park for a “clean up,” but a groundswell of several thousand people crammed in to defend the camp. This week they returned in the middle of the night, with sound canons and tear gas. Media were barred entry. Police effectively cleared the park, but set off a whirlwind of street action.
Some analysts have suggested that Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to remove the protesters from their camp in Zuccotti Park on Tuesday may provide a spark to the movement. As Ezra Klein reported:
At about 1 a.m. Tuesday morning, hundreds of New York City police officers raided Zuccotti Park. Police tore down tents and, according to witnesses, used tear gas, pepper spray, and at about 3 a.m., a sound cannon. Some of the protesters left immediately, quietly. Some of them joined together in the middle of the park, chanting, “Whose park? Our park!”
Police ultimately made 70 arrests and cleared the area. Their park.
In a statement released a few hours ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg explained the raid. “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. We have been in constant contact with Brookfield and yesterday they requested that the City assist it in enforcing the no sleeping and camping rules in the park. But make no mistake – the final decision to act was mine.”
Members of Occupy Wall Street are furious. Protests are being planned at various sites throughout the day. But the truth is, Bloomberg might have just done Occupy Wall Street a favor.
Next week, temperatures are projected to dip down to the high 30s. Next month, they’re projected to dip into the mid-20s. The month after that, as anyone who has experienced a New York winter know, they’re going to fall even lower.
The occupation of Zuccotti Park was always going to have a tough time enduring for much longer. As the initial excitement wore off and the cold crept in, only the diehards -- and those with no place else to go -- were likely to remain. The numbers in Zuccotti Park would thin, and so too would the media coverage. And in the event someone died of hypothermia, or there was some other disaster, that coverage could turn. What once looked like a powerful protest could come to be seen as a dangerous frivolity.
More from The Washington Post