N.Y. Police Clear Out Zuccotti Park

Originally published on November 15, 2011 4:50 pm
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

Several hundred police officers in riot gear raided Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan early this morning. Occupy Wall Street protestors have been encamped there for nearly two months. Police dismantled tents and other structures and evicted everyone from the park while sanitation workers power-washed the sidewalks. Protesters challenged that eviction in court today and lost. NPR's Margot Adler reports from New York.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: At 8:00 this morning, Zuccotti Park was empty as if no one had ever been there. Outside the steel barricades blocking entrance to the park, Luis Daniels, who calls himself Maximus, was enraged.

LUIS DANIELS: They took my shoes. They took my jackets. They took my IDs and they took my birth certificate and they threw it into the trash like if I was nothing.

ADLER: At the exact same time, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news conference that the action was necessary because the tents and tarps were a health and fire safety hazard. He cited an instance when an emergency medical technician had not been allowed into the park. The city has two main goals, he said, guaranting public health and safety and guaranting the protestors' First Amendment rights.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: But when those two goals clash, the health and safety of the public and our first responders must be the priority.

ADLER: He said they planned to open the park right then at 8:00 AM, but would not allow tents, tarps and sleeping bags. But after a five-minute opening, the park remained barricaded and here's why. At 6:15 in the morning, the legal team of Occupy Wall Street and the National Lawyers Guild went before a New York judge and obtained a temporary injunction. Judge Lucy Billings said the eviction was illegal and tents and tarps could be brought back.

Bloomberg said the park would be closed until the legal situation was resolved and they went back into court.

BLOOMBERG: 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.

ADLER: But with the temporary injunction, could the protestors return? At their new location on Canal Street, they talked about it at their general assembly. If you go back there, they said...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: And the police don't let you in...

CROWD IN UNISON: And the police don't let you in...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: ...they will be in contempt of court.

UNISON: ...they will be in contempt of court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: If you want to go back to Zuccotti Park...

UNISON: If you want to go back to Zuccotti Park...


UNISON: Go nice and easy.

ADLER: And that's just what they did, knowing that any time after 11:30 in the morning, the legal situation might change. Bobbie Moreno, in a long navy coat, looking like he might work on Wall Street, not be a protestor, walked up to a police officer with court order in hand and called on his cell phone to report a violation.

BOBBIE MORENO: I have a court order in my hand that says I'm allowed to be in Zuccotti Park and Officer Hurley is keeping me out of the park. I'm physically trying - I'm physically standing right here and he's physically not allowing me into the park.

ADLER: About 200 were arrested during the eviction from Zuccotti Park and during demonstrations afterward. They included a city councilmen and a number of journalists. But in all this, there's the strangely upbeat quality among the protestors. Brenden Burke is the head of de-escalation security, Occupy Wall Street, and he took the eviction in stride. First, he said, it wasn't a big deal.

BRENDEN BURKE: There were some pepper spray incidents, the usual kind of ruckus that goes on. Not so bad, though. People cleared the park mostly peacefully.

ADLER: And as for the future, not being able to camp at Zuccotti Park with tents and tarps, that doesn't matter either, he says. The discussion has taken root and the demonstration is mobile.

BURKE: It doesn't have to stay in a park. It's just alive and it's just people that are tired of the way the system is. So it's just what it is. It's gonna take whatever form - it's like water. It's gonna take whatever form it's got to take to get to where it's got to go.

ADLER: Despits the court's decision, a National Lawyers Guild attorney told me, it's not a real defeat. The genie's out of the bottle. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.