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 dragging individuals 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 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 trucks moved toward the area. Several witnesses reported that the trucks were used to cart off the protesters’ tents and belongings.
While many others 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 excessive noise.
“This morning, the city took targeted action to restore public safety and security to the Lower Manhattan neighborhood. I have been assured that the 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.”
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 reasonable solution.”
“I think, under this administration, the NYPD likes to keep the media as far from anything they do as they can,” Leonard Levitt, author of the book NYPD Confidential, 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, remain undeterred.
“These people,” said Robledo, pointing to the officers in Zuccotti Park on Tuesday afternoon, “are doing their job, and we have to do ours. We are going to reoccupy.”
Photo credits: Zuccotti Park early Tuesday morning after it was cleared. Photo by Dan Nguyen
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