Judge Rules Protesters Cannot Camp in Zuccotti Park

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The same day anti-Wall Street protesters were evicted from Zuccotti Park, a judge ruled they could not return with tents and sleeping bags to the space that has served as the group's defacto headquarters in Lower Manhattan for nearly two months.

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

In a statement, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the park was now open to the public. "The court’s ruling vindicates our position that First Amendment rights do not include the right to endanger the public or infringe on the rights of others by taking over a public space with tents and tarps. The City has the ultimate responsibility to protect public health and safety and we will continue to ensure that everyone can express themselves in New York City. Zuccotti Park will remain open to all who want to enjoy it, as long as they abide by the park’s rules," the statement read.

Protesters were allowed back into Zuccotti Park through a small space in the barricades as of early evening. NYPD used bullhorns to announce that no tents or large backpacks would be allowed in, and there was a large police presence trying to maintain order, as a crush of people waited for their turn to re-enter the park.

Demonstrators said despite the setback, they planned to carry on their message protesting corporate greed and economic inequality. "This is much bigger than a square plaza in downtown Manhattan," said Hans Shan, an organizer who was working with churches to find places for protesters to sleep. "You can't evict an idea whose time has come."

Some protesters around the park said they were dismayed by the court ruling. Chris Habib, a New York artist, said he hoped the group could settle on a new protest site. He was confident the movement would continue even if its flagship camp was dismantled. "A judge can't erase a movement from the public mind," he said. "The government is going to have to spend a lot of time in court to defend this."

Pete Dutro, head of the group's finances, said the loss of the movement's original encampment will open up a dialogue with other cities.

"We all knew this was coming," Dutro said. "Now it's time for us to not be tucked away in Zuccotti Park, and have different areas of occupation throughout the city."

About 200 were arrested when hundreds of police descended on the park around 1 a.m. Tuesday to tell protesters that they would have to vacate the park so it could be cleaned — and that they could not bring with them sleeping bags, tarps or tents when they returned.

Mayor Bloomberg — who said conditions within the park had become "intolerable" — said he intended to allow protesters back into the park after it had been cleaned. (Read the order - and the city's response - below).

"Protesters have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. "Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments."

The National Lawyers Guild filed an emergency appeal after the nighttime sweep.

“The city came in like storm troopers in the middle of the night and indiscriminately arrested or pushed back anyone they could who would be in a position to bear witness,” said Gideon Oliver, a lawyer from the non-profit National Lawyers Guild, outside the courthouse in Manhattan.

The mayor said it has become "increasingly difficult" to monitor activity in the park and that the tents have created a fire hazard. The park's owner, Brookfield Properties, requested the city's help in enforcing the no sleeping and camping rules in the park, he said.

A standoff near Soho

A tense, drawn-out confrontation between police and protesters began to unfold  as demonstrators gathered at a property on Canal Street near the Holland Tunnel shorting after being evicted from Zuccotti Park Monday morning.   

Approximately 150 people, including protesters and members of the media, surged onto the property after one protester gained entry through an opening in the chain link fence. Police officers – including those in riot gear – appeared soon after, prompting many of the protesters to quickly exit the site.

One protester, identified as Amin Husain by others, served as the negotiator for the group, and coordinated with clergy members trying to secure permission for the site from Trinity Real Estate, the owner of the property.

“Before they move in to arrest, they will give us a warning,” Husain said to the crowd, after talking to the police.

(Photo: A New York City police officer scuffles with Occupy Wall Street protesters after they were evicted from Zuccotti Park on November 15. Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

But moments later, officers threw Husain to the ground, placed plastic handcuffs on his wrists and arrested him and others, just outside the contested site. 

“I'm incredibly surprised,” said Ann Kansfield of the Greenpoint Reformed Church. “Especially given the long history of churches across the world opening their doors and their properties for sanctuary. Especially in times of need. And this would certainly qualify.”

An early-morning eviction

For hours after 1:45 a.m. on Tuesday, the streets around Zuccotti Park overflowed with stories and press to collect them.

Janet Richman, a nurse, said she was in the medical tent when the police arrived. She said the tent was pulled down while she was in it and many of the medical supplies were thrown in a dumpster. Though police said belongings could be retrieved later at 650 West 57th Street, Richman said she was not optimistic there would be much left once sleeping bags, tents and other belongings were fed to garbage trucks

Rabbi Chaim Gruber, a protester, said he was there when police were forcing demonstrators into the streets near Zuccotti Park Tuesdayy morning.

"The police are forming a human shield, and are pushing everyone away," he said.

Faith Blackshear, a member of the Food Working Group, said she went into the park to retrieve a bag and was temporarily trapped inside.

"When we were trying to come out of the park, they were already barricading everything from the top of the park all the way across Broadway," she said. "So everyone was pushed on the sidewalk and then people started getting pushed coming out."

Notices given to the protesters said the park "poses an increasing health and fire safety hazard to those camped in the park, the city's first responders and the surrounding community."

Last month, Bloomberg visited Zuccotti Park to tell protesters that the park would be cleared for cleaning. However, Brookfield Properties postponed the cleaning, citing the request of local politicians and an attempt to negotiated with Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Lower Manhattan residents and politicians voiced concerns last week about the sanitary conditions at Zuccotti Park and the protesters had port-a-potties set up at the site, with the help of an anonymous supporter.

(Photo: New York City sanitation workers clear the 'Occupy Wall Street' protest from Zuccotti Park in the early morning hours of November 15. Stan Honda/Getty Images)

The clearing out of Zuccotti Park came as protesters announced they planned to "shut down Wall Street" with a demonstration on Thursday to commemorate the completion of two months of the beginning of the encampment, which has spurred similar demonstrations across the country.

On Monday, a small group of demonstrators, including local residents and merchants, protested at City Hall. In recent weeks, they have urged the mayor to clear out the park because of its negative impact on the neighborhood and small businesses.

With reporting by Kathleen Horan, Karen Frillman, Dan Tucker and the Associated Press

VIDEO: Canal Street and Sixth Avenue around 8:45 a.m. (Video by Patricia Willens)

Read the Court Order and the City's Response Below


Protest Order

The city's response to the order: City Response to Order

Eviction notices distributed at Zuccotti Park on November 15.
Eviction notices distributed at Zuccotti Park on November 15. ( Karen Frillman/WNYC )