Occupy Wall Street

Occupy protesters return to New York park, but forbidden to set up camp

Occupy Wall Street protesters have been allowed to return to a New York City park where they were cleared out hours earlier.

Protesters were allowed back into lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park two by two Tuesday evening. They each could take only a small bag. No sleeping bags or tents are allowed.

A state Supreme Court judge ruled earlier Tuesday the protesters didn't have a First Amendment right to remain in the plaza. The site is open to the public but is privately owned.

Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman denied a motion by the demonstrators seeking to be allowed back into the park with their tents and sleeping bags.

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 owner's reasonable rights ... or to the rights to public access of others who might wish to use the space safely," Justice Stallman wrote.

The plaza, near the financial district, is open to the public, but is privately owned.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the park will stay open to all as long as the protesters abide by its rules.

Protesters are dismayed by the ruling and worry what the future will hold for the anti-Wall Street movement.

Hundreds of police officers in riot gear raided the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City in the pre-dawn darkness Tuesday, evicting hundreds of demonstrators and demolishing the tent city that was the epicentre of a movement protesting what participants call corporate greed and economic inequality.

The police action began around 1 a.m. and lasted several hours as officers with batons and plastic shields pushed the protesters from their base at Zuccotti Park. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said about 200 people were arrested, including dozens who tried to resist the eviction by linking arms in a tight circle at the centre of the park. A member of the City Council was among those arrested during the sweep.

By 4:30 a.m., the park was empty, wiped clean of any traces of the camp that had been there since Sept. 17. Tents and sleeping bags were hauled away to the dump. Workers used power washers to blast the stone plaza clean.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he ordered the sweep because health and safety conditions and become "intolerable" in the crowded plaza.

Hundreds of ousted protesters spent the day marching through Manhattan, chanting and looking for a new space to gather. There were skirmishes between protesters and police. Several journalists were arrested while trying to cover the marches.

At least 22 people were arrested after trying to move to an empty lot belonging to a church, Trinity Wall Street, that has been sympathetic to the movement.

Journalists were kept at a distance from covering the overnight raid, and at least six were arrested, handcuffed and hauled onto police buses along with hundreds of protesters. Reporter Karen Matthews and photographer Seth Wenig of The Associated Press in New York were taken into custody along with about eight other people after they followed protesters through an opening in a chain-link fence into a park, according to an AP reporter and other witnesses.

The surprise action came two days short of the two-month anniversary of the encampment.

Mr. Bloomberg justified his order to clear the park, saying: "From the beginning, I have said that the city has two principal goals: guaranteeing public health and safety, and guaranteeing the protesters' First Amendment rights. ... But when those two goals clash, the health and safety of the public and our first responders must be the priority."

Alan Levine, a lawyer for the demonstrators, said they had a free speech right to remain in the square. City lawyer Sheryl Neufeld said the demonstrators have a right to express themselves, but "it doesn't mean that they have a right to appropriate this private space for themselves."

"The protesters took over the park for their own use," she said.

In contrast to the scene weeks ago in Oakland, where a similar eviction turned chaotic and violent, the police action in New York was comparatively orderly. But it wasn't entirely bloodless.

"The cops hit my legs with a baton," said demonstrator Max Luisdaniel Santos, 31, an unemployed construction worker, pulling up his pants to show some swollen scars on his calf. "Then they shoved my face into the ground."

He pulled open his cheek to show where his teeth had cut into the flesh as he hit the stone paving.

"I was bleeding profusely. They shoved a lot of people's faces into the ground," Mr. Santos said as he stood near the park Tuesday morning, looking shaken. He said he lost his shoes in the scuffle, but wasn't arrested.

One person was taken to a hospital for evaluation because of breathing problems.

Journalists recorded video of police picking up protesters and tossing them over barricades.

City councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who has been supportive of the Occupy movement, was among those arrested outside of the park. Mr. Kelly, the police commissioner, said he was trying to get through police lines to reach the protesters.

In recent weeks, some residents and small business owners downtown had begged city officials to do something about the disruptions called by the protest.

Occupy encampments have come under fire around the country and even overseas as local officials and residents have complained about possible health hazards and ongoing inhabitation of parks and other public spaces.

Activists converged at the University of California, Berkeley, on Tuesday for a day of protests and another attempt to set up a camp less than a week after police arrested dozens of protesters who tried to pitch tents on campus.

The Berkeley protesters will be joined by Occupy Oakland activists who said they would march to the UC campus in the afternoon. Police cleared the tent city in front of Oakland City Hall before dawn Monday and arrested more than 50 people amid complaints about safety, sanitation and drug use.

In London, authorities said they were resuming legal action to evict a protest camp outside St. Paul's Cathedral after talks with the demonstrators stalled.

(Published by The Globe and Mail - November 15, 2011)

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