Occupy Wall Street Protesters Cleared From Zuccotti Park
By KEVIN DOLAK, RICHARD ESPOSITO and AARON KATERSKY
A judge ruled today that Occupy Wall Street protesters can return with their tents to New York’s Zuccotti Park, just hours after police dressed in riot gear forcibly removed them. City officials had said the occupiers could return, but without their gear, and were seeking to clarify the judge’s order.
More than 100 people were arrested after New York police made a surprise early-morning visit to clear out the lower Manhattan park, the main camp of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Protesters were ordered to leave the park at 1 a.m. Tuesday, on the two-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which quickly spread to cities across the country and globe.
But just hours after the park was cleared, the National Lawyers Guild obtained a court order allowing protesters to return with tents to the park.
In a press conference morning, Bloomberg said that the protesters and their equipment had become a health and safety hazard and they were preventing others from using the privately-owned park.
“The First Amendment doesn’t protect the use of tents and sleeping bags,” Bloomberg said. “Now they will have to occupy the park with just the power of their arguments.”
According to New York’s Deputy Police Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne, 70 arrests were made at the park. Coupled with earlier arrests on Broadway north of the park, more than 100 protesters were taken into custody.
The final group of about a dozen protesters removed from the park were chained to each other and to trees. Emergency services officers used portable power saws to sever the chains.
NYPD surrounded Zuccotti Park with officers in riot gear and broadcast by bullhorn the order for protesters to vacate the park, which was soon lit up with flood lights. Reports indicated police said they would arrest anyone who refused the order to leave.
Police were seen pouring into the scene from all directions and sealing off the park. Officers backed by additional vans drove protesters north up Broadway away from the park.
In one instance there was a scuffle with police, and one person was arrested after some objects were thrown.
At least two brief violent clashes were reported north of Zuccotti Park, while two arrest wagons were filled with protesters at Broadway, about two blocks north of the park.
At the park, the tents, street furniture and any possessions protesters refused to move were dismantled and tossed into dumpsters and open-topped city garbage trucks. Workers moved in with steam cleaners and other equipment to clean the park.
A number of downtown New York street corners were packed with protesters standing chest to chest with helmeted police armed with batons.
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Chief of Department of the NYPD Joe Esposito were on the scene supervising police, while hundreds of officers began to gather north of the park in lines, ready to march downtown.
By 2:30 a.m. only a handful of protesters remained in the park, although hundreds were gathered in pockets nearby. Protesters who vacated Zuccotti Park marched up to Foley Square, approximately 10 blocks north of City Hall. That group was soon forced north by police and broken up into scattered groups that were effectively dispersed.
A flyer that was handed out to protesters read: “The city has determined that the continued occupation of Zuccotti Park poses an increasing health and fire safety hazard to those camped in the park, the city’s first responders, and to the surrounding community.
“You are required to immediately remove all property, including tents, sleeping bags and tarps from Zuccotti Park. That means you must remove the property now.”
The flyer indicated that protesters would be allowed into the park “after a few hours” when the park has been cleaned, but they “will not be permitted to bring tents, sleeping bags, tarps and similar materials.”
The following tweet appeared at approximately 1:20 a.m. ET on the NYCMayorsOffice Twitter feed, which is the official Twitter of the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg: “Occupants of Zuccotti should temporarily leave and remove tents and tarps. Protestors can return after the Park is cleared. #ows”
“From the beginning, I have said that the City had 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,” the statement from Mayor Bloomberg read.
“That is why, several weeks ago the City acted to remove generators and fuel that posed a fire hazard from the park … We have been in constant contact with Brookfield and yesterday they requested that the City assist it in enforcing the no sleeping and camping rules in the park. But make no mistake — the final decision to act was mine,” Bloomberg said.
The Occupy Wall Street movement issued a statement an hour after the police action at Zuccotti Park began.
“Supporters and allies are mobilizing throughout the city, presently converging at Foley Square. Supporters are also planning public actions for the coming days, including occupation actions,” the statement said.
The Occupy Wall Street protesters had reportedly planned to cause a massive disruption in traffic on the streets of lower Manhattan Tuesday in an attempt to delay the opening of the New York Stock Exchange.
ABC News’ Richard Esposito contributed to this report.