NYPD Clears Occupy Wall Street Campers From Zucotti Park
New York Police dealt a major blow to Occupy Wall Street overnight.
Mere hours ago, in the middle of the night, New York City Police moved in and cleared the campers out of the park that had become the center of the Occupy Wall Street movement:
Hundreds of New York City police officers cleared Zuccotti Park of the Occupy Wall Street protesters early Tuesday, arresting dozens of people there after warning them that the nearly two-month-old camp would be “cleared and restored” before the morning and that any demonstrator who did not leave would be arrested.
The protesters, about 200 of whom have been staying in the park overnight, initially resisted with chants of “Whose park? Our park!” as officers began moving in and tearing down tents. The protesters rallied around an area known as the kitchen, near the middle of the park and began building barricades with tables and pieces of scrap wood.
Over the next two hours, dozens of protesters left the park, while a core group of about 100 dug in around the food area. Many locked arms and defied police orders to leave. By 3 a.m., dozens of helmet-clad officers, watched over by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, closed in on the remaining protesters. They pulled them out one protester at a time and handcuffed them. Most were walked out without incident.
The Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, told The Associated Press that 70 people had been arrested in the park, including some who had chained themselves together.
The officers had gathered between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges earlier and rode in vans to the one-square-block park. They entered about 1 a.m.
As they did, dozens of protesters linked arms and shouted “No retreat, no surrender,” “This is our home” and “Barricade!”
The mayor’s office sent out a message on Twitter at 1:19 a.m. saying: “Occupants of Zuccotti should temporarily leave and remove tents and tarps. Protesters can return after the park is cleared.” Fliers handed out by the police at the private park on behalf of the park’s owner, Brookfield Properties, and the city, spelled out the same message.
A number of other arrests were reported just outside the park, as police tried to move supporters of the protesters away from the park. Details were not immediately available. There were several additional arrests after the park was cleared when protesters who refused to leave a nearby street were taken into custody.
The police move came as organizers put out word on their Web site that they planned to “shut down Wall Street” with a demonstration on Thursday to commemorate the completion of two months of the beginning of the encampment, which has spurred similar demonstrations across the country.
The move also came hours after a small demonstration at City Hall on Monday by opponents of the protest, including local residents and merchants, some of whom urged the mayor to clear out the park.
Before the police moved in, they set up a battery of klieg lights and aimed them into the park. A police captain, wearing a helmet, walked down Liberty Street and announced: “The city has determined that the continued occupation of Zuccotti Park poses an increasing health and fire safety hazard.”
The captain ordered the protesters to “to immediately remove all private property” and said that if they interfered with the police operation, they would be arrested. Property that was not removed would be taken to a sanitation garage, the police said.
This appears to be the same kind of cleaning operation that was aborted by the NYPD near the beginning of the protests and it’s unclear if allowing the protesters to return to the park means that they’ll also be able to camp out overnight again. If they will be, then the point of the operation is a bit puzzling, to be honest.
Update: Based on this statement from Mayor Bloomberg, it would appear that the police do not intend the camp to be re-created, which ought to make continuing this protest in the coming weeks much harder:
At one o’clock this morning, the New York City Police Department and the owners of Zuccotti Park notified protesters in the park that they had to immediately remove tents, sleeping bags and other belongings, and must follow the park rules if they wished to continue to use it to protest. Many protesters peacefully complied and left. At Brookfield’s request, members of the NYPD and Sanitation Department assisted in removing any remaining tents and sleeping bags. This action was taken at this time of day to reduce the risk of confrontation in the park, and to minimize disruption to the surrounding neighbourhood.
Protesters were asked to temporarily leave the park while this occurred, and have been told that they will be free to return to the park once Brookfield finishes cleaning it later morning. Protesters – and the general public – are welcome there to exercise their First Amendment rights, and otherwise enjoy the park, but will not be allowed to use tents, sleeping bags, or tarps and, going forward, must follow all park rules.
The law that created Zuccotti Park required that it be open for the public to enjoy for passive recreation 24 hours a day. Ever since the occupation began, that law has not been complied with, as the park has been taken over by protesters, making it unavailable to anyone else.
From the beginning, I have said that the City had two principal goals: guaranteeing public health and safety, and guaranteeing the protesters’ First Amendment rights.
But when those two goals clash, the health and safety of the public and our first responders must be the priority.
That is why, several weeks ago the City acted to remove generators and fuel that posed a fire hazard from the park.
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 protesters 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.
The park had become covered in tents and tarps, making it next to impossible to safely navigate for the public, and for first responders who are responsible for guaranteeing public safety. The dangers posed were evident last week when an EMT [emergency medical technician] was injured as protesters attempted to prevent him and several police officers from helping a mentally ill man who was menacing others. As an increasing number of large tents and other structures have been erected, these dangers have increased. It has become increasingly difficult even to monitor activity in the park to protect the protesters and the public, and the proliferation of tents and other obstructions has created an increasing fire hazard that had to be addressed.
Some have argued to allow the protesters to stay in the park indefinitely – others have suggested we just wait for winter and hope the cold weather drove the protesters away – but inaction was not an option. I could not wait for someone in the park to get killed or to injure another first responder before acting. Others have cautioned against action because enforcing our laws might be used by some protesters as a pretext for violence – but we must never be afraid to insist on compliance with our laws.
Unfortunately, the park was becoming a place where people came not to protest, but rather to break laws, and in some cases, to harm others. There have been reports of businesses being threatened and complaints about noise and unsanitary conditions that have seriously impacted the quality of life for residents and businesses in this now-thriving neighbourhood. The majority of protesters have been peaceful and responsible. But an unfortunate minority have not been – and as the number of protesters has grown, this has created an intolerable situation.
No right is absolute and with every right comes responsibilities. The First Amendment gives every New Yorker the right to speak out – but it does not give anyone the right to sleep in a park or otherwise take it over to the exclusion of others – nor does it permit anyone in our society to live outside the law. There is no ambiguity in the law here – the First Amendment protects speech – it does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space.
Protesters have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags. Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments.
Let me conclude by thanking the NYPD, FDNY, and the Department of Sanitation for their professionalism earlier this morning. Thank you.
CNN is reporting that the city has already posted signs at the park stating that there would be a 10pm nightly curfew and that no tents or sleeping bags allow in the park. Meanwhile, the protesters who were cleared out of the park are gathered a few blocks away at Foley Square apparently deciding what to do next. You can rest assured that camping at Foley Square won’t be permitted as that area is near City Hall as well as courthouses for New York State and the Federal Government. For simple reasons of security, I doubt the authorities would let happen there what happened at Zucotti Park. That, it would appear, is that.
Photo via The New York Times