Zuccotti Park, the site of the first Occupy Wall Street camp, reopened Tuesday evening, minutes after a New York state court handed the city a victory in its effort to limit the type of protest that could be held.
Protesters initially were allowed into the park in single file through one entrance, and some indicated they wanted to stay all night. But it was unclear how they would cope without tents, generators, sleeping bags and other equipment that had turned the site into a long-running full-time protest against corporate greed and the nation’s wealthiest 1%.
Under the ruling handed down by State Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman, the 2-month-old protest can resume, but without the equipment. The judge also said the park had to be usable by the general public, upholding the city’s argument that led to the overnight raid.
The raid on the encampment, which had set a pattern for dozens of other cities, closed the area and led to the arrest of about 200 people.
On Tuesday evening, though the court ruled against them, the protesters seemed in good spirits. The pounding of drums, which had been heard throughout the day, seemed louder, and one demonstrator ran around inside the perimeter, sporting a sign proclaiming: “Grand Reopening.”
As they entered, the demonstrators chanted, “All day, all week, Occupy Wall Street.”
“I'm concerned about what the ruling is going to mean for the winter,” Gayle Price, 46, an unemployed New Yorker, said. She said she has been coming to the park regularly since the protest began Sept. 17.
“But the movement isn't just Zuccotti Park,” she said. “Last night and today clarified that for me.... The place was taken from us but the spirit was still there.”
The city was quick to claim a victory for its policy of forcing the park to be closed and cleaned before being reopened to general use.
“We are gratified that the court recognized the importance of balancing public safety with the protesters' claim that building tents constitutes speech,” said Sheryl Neufeld, senior counsel for the city’s law department.
“Conditions at the park had deteriorated to the point that serious concerns about crime, fire hazards and public health needed to be addressed. As planned, protesters will be allowed to return to Zuccotti Park, but will not be permitted to bring in tents, tarps and sleeping bags. The 1st Amendment protects freedom of speech, not the right to take over and live in a public space,” she said in a statement.
The city cited a key passage in Stallman’s ruling that backed its decision:
“The movants have not demonstrated that they have a First Amendment right to remain in Zuccotti Park, along with their tents, structures, generators and other installations to the exclusion of the owner’s reasonable rights and duties to maintain Zuccotti Park, or to the rights to public access of others who might wish to use the space safely. Neither have the applicants shown a right to a temporary restraining order that would restrict the City’s enforcement of law so as to promote public health and safety,” the justice wrote.
The lawyers who fought the city insisted that they would continue the battle, though exactly how was yet to be determined. “This is just a hiccup in the road,” Danny Alterman told reporters after the ruling was handed down.
“We feel the city has acted unlawfully. We'll continue to fight here in the courts while our clients continue to fight in the streets,” said Yetta Kurland, another lawyer.
-- Geraldine Baum and Nathaniel Popper in New York and Michael Muskal in Los Angeles
Photo: Demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street movement wave court orders to reopen Zuccotti Park at a member of the New York City Police Department on Tuesday. Credit: Peter Foley / Bloomberg