Colby Hamilton, Writer, WNYC News
Colby Hamilton is a general assignment reporter. He originally joined WNYC as a political blogger. He's a proud graduate of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
We're talking to city, state and Federal officials to get their reactions to this morning's clearing of protesters from Zuccotti Park. We'll update as reactions come in.
At long last, a statement from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn on the Mayor's actions last night:
As I have said from the very beginning, we must balance the protesters’ First Amendment rights with the rights of the residents, workers, and businesses of Lower Manhattan. We must protect the protestors' right to peaceful assembly and the local community's right to a safe and secure neighborhood.
Today’s actions include reports of excessive force by the NYPD, and reports of infringement of the rights of the press. If these reports are true, these actions are unacceptable. The Council will seek answers to questions surrounding these reports and clarifying information regarding the arrest and treatment of Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.
In a spirit of cooperation, we must work to ensure that the protesters are allowed back into Zuccotti Park as soon as possible and are allowed to exercise their right to protest while not impeding on the rights of others.
A joint statement from Manhattan State Senator Dan Squadron and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, whose district covers Zuccotti Park:
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.
We have also been urging the City to have a zero tolerance policy on noise and sanitation violations, and to make the results of its enforcement public. But we must balance the core First Amendment rights of protesters and the other legitimate issues that have been raised.
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?
On the issue of Brookfield’s rules, we are very concerned that they were promulgated after the protesters arrived; the specific legal questions on this topic are being addressed where it is appropriate – in the courts.
Whatever the courts rule, the City’s actions here must not be a backdoor means of ending the free exercise of protesters’ rights. Irrespective of this incident, OWS is now bigger than Zuccotti Park, and no one has the power to silence this national movement.
Statement from the chair of the City Council's civil rights committee, Staten Island Councilwoman Debi Rose:
Last night, Freedom of Speech was attacked like a thief in the night. While I recognize the importance of the occupier's health and safety, I seriously question whether protesters were given ample time to vacate the park without creating a scene of pandemonium. The fact that Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez was injured during this process was indicative of the indiscriminate use of force. I stand by my friend and colleague, Ydanis Rodriquez and I also stand firmly on the side of the 99 percent!
Statement from the chair of the City Council's public safety committee, Queens Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr.:
I support Mayor Bloomberg’s actions today in ending only the illegal aspects of what had clearly become an occupation which denied others their right to safe, clean streets. The protests can continue, within the reasonable restrictions set by the legislature and the courts.
Manhattan Democratic Party chairman Assemblyman Keith Wright said he'd visited the encampment at least seven times and had found protesters who "weren't bothering anybody."
"It seemed clean. It seemed orderly," he said. "I think it was a power move by the mayor. I don't really quite understand why they cannot go back and camp out." He continued, saying the Mayor was "trying to get rid of the mosquito that's been buzzing in [Bloomberg's] ear."
Statement from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer:
For many weeks, there has been a struggle to balance the protesters’ First Amendment freedoms and the health, sanitation, and safety concerns surrounding Zuccotti Park. During this time, I have enjoyed a collaborative discourse with the Administration on this issue. I want to thank in particular my colleagues in government including Deputy Mayor Wolfson.
Last night, the Administration acted to end the occupation of Zuccotti Park by forcible eviction, and I am greatly troubled by reports of unnecessary force against protestors and members of the media, including the use of “chokeholds” and pepper spray. I am also troubled by reports of media being forcibly kept away at a distance from these events. American foreign correspondents routinely put themselves in harm’s way to do their jobs, in some of the most brutal dictatorships in the world. And their NYC colleagues deserve the freedom to make the same choice. Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square. I call for a full explanation of police behavior in this evacuation.
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.
Statement from Comptroller John Liu:
Going in and forcibly removing the protestors in the dead of night sends the wrong message. City Hall should have continued to talk with the protestors in the light of day if it wanted them removed, instead of evicting them in the middle of the night. There seems to be no compelling reason for this action at this time. The protestors have a right to be heard.
City Councilman Jumaane Williams was at Zuccotti Park this morning by 2 am, after hearing that Mayor Michael Bloomberg had ordered the clearing of protesters. "Just in time to see [City Councilman] Ydanis [Rodriguez] put in the paddywagon," Williams said. Rodriguez was arrested this morning along with more than a hundred other protesters.
"I think it's a very bad day for democracy. And I'm sorry that Bloomberg has his name all over it," the Councilman continued. He said the actions by the Mayor would serve to "galvanize" support for the Occupation, bringing more people in.
"People are going to get more energized now," he said.
Manhattan State Senator Liz Krueger:
I am very disturbed that the City's approach to dealing with the "health and fire safety" issues raised by the Zuccotti protest was a surprise ambush in the middle of the night. Physically forcing people out of the park or leaving them to face arrest, with no notice or warning, is not a commitment to civil rights and it certainly was not the right way to handle this situation.
Statement from Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who has been supportive of the Occupation. Hoping to speak to him a bit more on this later.
Protecting public safety and quality of life for downtown residents, and guaranteeing free expression are not exclusive of one another. Mayor Bloomberg made a needlessly provocative and legally questionable decision to clear Zuccotti Park in the dead of night. That some media and observers were prevented from monitoring the action is deeply troubling.
I know of no one—protesters included—who desires a permanent occupation of lower Manhattan. But provocations under cover of darkness only escalate tensions in a situation that calls for mediation and dialogue. I call on the Mayor to find a sustainable resolution—as other cities have done—that allows for the exercise of free speech and assembly, with respect for the rights of all New Yorkers to peaceful enjoyment of our great city.