Occupy Wall Street protesters allowed back in park - without tents - after early morning raid

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 15, 2011 

NEW YORK — After being completely cleared in a surprise police sweep early Tuesday morning, Occupy Wall Street protesters were permitted to re-enter Manhattan's Zuccotti Park around 5:30 p.m.

As helicopters flew overhead, police officers guarded two makeshift security checkpoints, allowing protesters to enter the park in single file. Once inside, the protesters joined dozens of police officers who had been stationed in the park since the early morning raid that cleared tents and other personal and communal property that had accumulated since protesters began sleeping in the park on Sept. 17.

"All day, all week, Occupy Wall Street!" protesters chanted as they walked around the former tent village.

Though protesters were allowed back into the park, they entered under a new set of rules: no tents, tarps or sleeping bags are now permitted in the park. Protesters also are not allowed to store personal property in the park, or even to lie down.

Justice Michael D. Stallman of the State Supreme Court earlier had rejected a temporary restraining order sought by lawyers for the protesters. Stallman wrote that the protesters "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 landlord or others who wish to use the park safely.

Protesters, Stallman ruled, would now be subject to the rules outlined by Brookfield Properties after the protests began but not enforced until now.

After the early morning raid, Zuccotti Park was completely cordoned off. Dozens of police officers and security officers from Brookfield Properties gathered inside the otherwise empty plaza. The surrounding sidewalks were tightly packed with protesters, journalists, onlookers and other police officers.

The police raid began about 1 a.m., when hundreds of officers descended on the park to clear out the protesters and their belongings.

Channing Creager, 22, who had slept on and off in Zuccotti Park since the protests began, said that she had just put her sleeping bag over her when she learned of the sweep. She said she heard yelling from outside her tent, which she ignored at first.

"But then I heard, 'Everybody out of the tents, everybody out of the tents, they're coming in, the police are going to raid."

She said she got up, grabbed what belonging she could, and saw police lined all around the park, many wearing helmets and holding batons.

"It was just crazy, I couldn't believe how many of them there were," Creager said.

Protesters said they were given only a few minutes to gather their belongings.

"It was grab what you can and go, that was pretty much it," said Shawn Rapp, 45, another protester who was forced to leave during the raid. "They could've at least given everybody a couple hours' notice."

At an 8 a.m. press conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the raid came at such an early hour to reduce the risk of confrontation in the park and to minimize disruption to the surrounding neighborhood. Bloomberg said he and Brookfield Properties came to the decision to sweep the park because of concerns the occupation posed a health and fire safety hazard.

"But make no mistake — the final decision to act was mine," Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg said he had two goals since the beginning of the protest: to guarantee public health and safety as well as the protesters' First Amendment rights. He defended his decision to clear the park.

"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 place," he said.

Ray Kelly, the New York police commissioner, confirmed that about 200 protesters were arrested Tuesday, 142 of them in Zuccotti Park and the rest in the surrounding area.

Not all city officials agreed with Bloomberg's decision.

Ydanis Rodriguez, a city council member in upper Manhattan, was among those arrested at the park. Several outlets reported that he was bleeding from his head at the time of the arrest. A message posted to Rodgriguez's twitter account shortly after 2 p.m. said that that Rodriguez and other Occupy Wall Street protesters continued to be held without access to their lawyers.

In a statement posted to his website, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said that he was "greatly troubled by reports of unnecessary force against protesters and members of the media, including the use of 'chokeholds' and pepper spray." He was also troubled, the statement said, by reports of media being forcibly kept away at a distance from the events.

"New York City has a duty to protect public safety, and it also has a duty to protect people's freedom to voice concerns about economic justice that have struck a deep chord with millions of Americans. Surely our city can do both," Stringer's statement said.

The blocks surrounding the park were cordoned off during the raid, in what many reporters described as a media blackout, in which they were not allowed to enter the park. A video posted on a New York Times blog showed a reporter being handcuffed as he stated that he was a journalist and tried to show the press credentials around his neck.

Even before they were let back into the park, protesters said that regardless of what lay ahead, the unexpected raid would only serve to further unify them in their efforts.

"I think the evacuation galvanized everyone," said Kit Gill, 72, who has been coming to Zuccotti Park regularly for weeks. Gill said she understood why the police wanted to clear out the crowded tents in the park, but she disagreed with the way the raid was conducted.

Shortly before 2 p.m., a well-known activist commonly referred to as Reverend Bill delivered a message via the call-and-repeat method known as among protesters as "the people's mic."

"What happened tonight sets up Thursday," he said, when demonstrators will mark the two-month anniversary of the protests with planned actions around the country.

In Washington, members of the non-profit OurDC have organized a protest on the Key Bridge for Thursday. Unemployed residents will span the Key Bridge holding a banner and forming a human chain.

"The Key Bridge symbolizes the frustration and the work that needs to be done," said James Adams, communications director for OurDC. "In southeast Washington ... the official unemployment rate is 21 percent. ... There are pockets where the rate is 28 percent, and that's the highest in the nation."

OurDC is expecting at least 300 people. It has invited various organizations to attend, including the Occupy DC protesters.

Miami has a similar plan in motion for Thursday. The One Miami movement is expecting 2,000 to 3,000 people to unite in Jose Marti Park before they march into the financial center of the city.

"From the One Miami perspective, we don't represent anyone who is looking for a handout; people just want to get back to work," said Jose Suarez, communications director for One Miami. "You're going to see a diverse group — young people, thirtysomethings, seniors, Haitians, Cubans, African Americans."

Back in New York, Paul Spitz, 61, who was working on upkeep of the Occupy Wall Street protesters' live web stream, was undeterred by the day's events.

"Wherever it takes us, we're going to go there," said Spitz.

(Kate Howard of the Washington Bureau contributed.)

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

Occupy Wall Street is many things, but one thing it's not is partisan

Occupy DC protesters hold mock committee hearing

Occupy protesters declare Goldman Sachs guilty, get arrested

McClatchy Newspapers 2011

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service