UPDATE (5:15 P.M. EST): A New York judge has upheld the city’s dismantling of the Occupy Wall Street encampment, saying that the protesters’ first amendment rights don’t entitle them to camp out indefinitely in the plaza.
UPDATE (12:44 P.M. EST): The National Lawyers Guild has obtained a court order allowing Occupy Wall Street protesters to return with tents to the park. The guild said the injunction prevents the city from enforcing park rules on Occupy Wall Street protesters. Zuccotti Park remains closed, however, until local courts can rule further. More as this develops.
MANHATTAN — Hundreds of New York City police officers decked out in riot gear surrounded and then dismantled the core of the Occupy Wall Street protest early Tuesday morning, tearing down tents and arresting at least 75 people after they refused to leave. The surprise raid, which began at about 1 a.m. and was reportedly requested by the private owner of Zuccotti Park, spurred a massive outpouring of people — a mix of supporters, curious observers, and media from around the world — into the streets of downtown New York.
Hundreds of demonstrators dispersed in search of a new gathering spot (a march on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s City Hall was quickly aborted) while others stood by, shouting, as a backhoe, sanitation trucks, at least four dumptrucks, and trash compactors rumbled down Broadway and cleared the park. There were murmurs of regrouping at another downtown location as dawn approached, while one activist warned a television reporter that the movement was doubling down for Thursday’s planned “day of rage,” when protests have been planned across the country.
“Protesters can return after the park is cleared,” said the mayor’s office in a tweet delivered shortly after 1 a.m. However, sleeping bags and tents will no longer be allowed, effectively ending the ragged, utopian statement of a society that has been camping out in the square since Sept. 17.
“Some have argued to allow the protestors to stay in the park indefinitely — others have suggested we just wait for winter and hope the cold weather drove the protestors away — but inaction was not an option,” Bloomberg later said in a statement. “I could not wait for someone in the park to get killed or to injure another first responder before acting. Others have cautioned against action because enforcing our laws might be used by some protestors as a pretext for violence — but we must never be afraid to insist on compliance with our laws.”
At around 2 a.m., police started knocking back the swarm of observers, many of whom were wielding cellphone cameras. The officers marched in horizontal lines, gripping their batons with two hands in order to break up the crowds. “Move the f–k up! Move the f–k up!” yelled one especially agitated police officer as he aggressively shoved his nightstick against the back of a National Memo reporter who was walking away from the scene.
Retreating demonstrators occasionally panicked as the cops tried to clear out a four-block radius from the park. “EVERYBODY GET TO THE CHASE BANK,” screamed a demonstrator as a few members of the increasingly fragmented crowd were marched back across a street. The official Occupy Wall Street livestream was flooded with viewers and at least temporarily put out of commission by the raid.
The unexpected raid was accompanied by an attempted media blackout, as the police prohibited reporters (including those with press passes) from entering Zuccotti, closed the subways leading to downtown Manhattan, and even prevented news helicopters from flying in the airspace over the park.
Neither were politicians spared. Ydanis Rodriguez, a city council member representing New York City’s 10th district visiting the park, was reportedly injured and arrested by the police.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler and State Senator Daniel Squadron, Democrats who both represent Lower Manhattan, responded to the latest developments in a joint statement issued to the press early Tuesday afternoon.
“The City’s actions to shut down OWS last night raise a number of serious civil liberties questions that must be answered,” they said. “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?
“Irrespective of this incident, OWS is now bigger than Zuccotti Park, and no one has the power to silence this national movement.”
But the raid has thrown the signature protest defined by a sustained physical presence in a well-known public space into disarray, even as activists swore they would only be emboldened by the most strategic and aggressive effort yet by city authorities to crush the movement. Plans were already forming early Tuesday to reignite the protest at Foley Square, a nearby park and common site for targeted actions by “Occupy.”
In recent weeks, despite the fact that specific policy demands never emerged, a growing strain of thought emerged on the left that the debate had already been won by shifting the national conversation from fiscal austerity to income inequality. Adbusters, the Canadian group that took a lead role in getting things started two months ago, issued a strategy memo just hours before the raid suggesting the camps might be in a position to declare victory and pack up before winter.
Camps throughout America have been coming up against increased hostility from police as the holidays approach and elected officials lose patience with a cause that operates outside the traditional political channels.
A video of the chaos at its peak early in the morning follows:
With research and reporting contributed by Peter Sterne