Occupy Wall Street: Judge backs city, ends camping in park
Hours after New York officials raided Zuccotti Park, emptying it of the nation’s first Occupy Wall Street protest camp, a New York judge ruled in favor of the city and said that protesters may not return to the area with their tents.
The ruling was handed down by State Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman. The judge held that the city could indeed block protesters from returning to their full-time protest, which included tents and generators, and that the public should be able to use the site.
Early Tuesday, police in riot gear had cleared the park, the spiritual home of the Occupy movement that brought a populist message into the political arena. Within weeks of that camp's creation, dozens of U.S. cities had their own encampments, each loosely based on the idea that the richest 1% of the nation should do more to help the other 99% deal with debt, lack of jobs and a poor economy.
About 200 people were arrested in the New York raid, charged with disorderly conduct. Some were also charged with resisting arrest. The tents and sleeping bags that had been the props to thousands of photographs over the weeks were hauled away to a city garage facility.
Demonstrators, represented by the National Lawyers Guild, had asked the New York court to rule that the city acted illegally when it evicted hundreds of demonstrators from the area, also known as Liberty Park.
“This is a situation the city created,” Gideon Oliver, the lawyer for the protesters, said outside the court after a hearing. “The city came in like storm troopers in the middle of the night and indiscriminately arrested anyone who could bear witness to what happened.”
In its court papers, the city argued that the area had become “a public safety hazard,” saying it was unhealthy and unsafe and prevented the general public from using the space. The city was backed by Brookfield Properties, which owns the park and allows general use.
At a morning news conference, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the city had planned to reopen the park after the raid and after the area was cleaned.
“The law that created Zuccotti Park required that it be open for the public to enjoy for passive recreation 24 hours a day,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “Ever 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 protesters and to the surrounding community,” Bloomberg said.
In a statement, Brookfield praised the city for its actions.
-- Nathaniel Popper in New York and Michael Muskal in Los Angeles
Photo: Occupy Wall Street activists protest outside Zuccotti Park after police removed the protesters early Tuesday morning. Hundreds of protesters rallying against inequality in America had slept in tents and under tarps in the park since Sept. 17, making it the epicenter of the global Occupy movement. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images