By Marissa Maier
Nearly two days shy of its two-month anniversary, the
encampment at Zuccotti Park dubbed Occupy Wall Street (OWS) was cleared out by
members of the New York Police Department in the early morning hours of
Tuesday, Nov. 15. At a press conference later in the day, Mayor Michael
Bloomberg noted that health and safety concerns had spurred the sweep. By the
afternoon, however, supporters of the movement had returned to the barricaded
area, where dozens of NYPD officers stood in the cordoned-off park.
According to Alix Koloff, who was in the settlement’s
kitchen at the time, the police arrived around 1 a.m. near the Broadway and
Liberty Street entrance, turning on bright lights and telling protesters to
gather their belongings and vacate. “Gradually, they were on all sides of the
park with their shields,” she said.
Koloff and many others, she noted, stayed put until about
3:30 or 4 a.m., when she said police began grabbing individuals and dragging
them out of the park. She added that she left the kitchen right before a group
of people were pepper-sprayed.
Roughly a block away, at Cortlandt Street and Broadway, at
about 2 a.m. Anthony Robledo, who has been part of the occupation for a month,
was barred from re-entering the park by police. He watched as sanitation trucks
moved toward the area. Several witnesses reported that the trucks were used to
cart off the protesters’ tents and belongings, including the contents of OWS’
While many others, including facilitators in the movement’s
General Assembly, relocated to nearby Foley Square, Robledo stayed behind and
waited until he was let into Zuccotti Park at around 7 a.m. According to
statements from police officials, roughly 142 people were arrested inside the
park, including Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, and an additional 50 or 60
individuals were arrested on nearby streets. There have also been widespread
reports of the media being barred from covering the events.
At a press conference later that morning, Bloomberg noted
that the park should be accessible to the full public but that OWS’ use of
tents and temporary structures had made this impossible. For weeks, local
politicians had been fielding complaints from residents regarding quality-of-life
issues such as urination and defecation and the noise caused by drumming.
“This morning, the city took targeted action to restore
public safety and security to the Lower Manhattan neighborhood. I have been
assured that that protesters will be allowed to return to Zuccotti Park—for 24
hours a day—where they can continue to exercise their First Amendment rights,”
said Council Member Margaret Chin.
“I do not believe the ban on tents and other sleeping
material impedes on these rights,” she said. “With the park rules in place,
residents and area workers can once again make use of this public space. I also
urge the city to enforce the law with regards to noise and sanitation around
In a joint statement, Rep. Jerrold Nadler and State Sen. Daniel
Squadron noted: “We agree that Zuccotti Park must be open and accessible to
everyone—OWS, the public, law enforcement and first responders—and that it is
critical to protect the health and safety of protesters and the community. The
city’s actions to shut down OWS last night raise a number of serious civil
liberties questions that must be answered.
“Moving forward, how will the city respect the protesters’
rights to speech and assembly? Why was press access limited and why were some
reporters’ credentials confiscated? How will reported incidents of excessive
force used by the police be addressed?”
Community Board 1 Chairperson Julie Menin added, “CB1 has
been clear that we oppose the use of force in this situation and oppose a
forcible clearing of the park. We believe that there is a solution that allows
the protection of OWS’ First Amendment rights and also respects the quality of
life for residents and small businesses.
“As we have consistently said,” she asserted, “these two are
not mutually exclusive and we urge the city to meet with OWS and work toward a
Leonard Levitt, author of the book NYPD Confidential, noted in an interview that the NYPD has a record of
keeping information from the media, citing information gathered on anti-Iraq
War protesters who were arrested at a 2003 rally as an example.
“I think, under this administration, the NYPD likes to keep
the media as far from anything they do as they can,” Levitt observed.
OWS was dealt another setback that day when New York City
Justice Michael D. Stallman ruled that the property owner Brookfield Properties
had the right to uphold its rule prohibiting the use of “tents, structures,
generators and other installations” in the park. Some protesters, however,
“These people,” said Robledo, pointing to the officers
behind the barricades in Zuccotti Park on Tuesday afternoon, “are doing their
job, and we have to do ours. We are going to reoccupy. We are still here.”