At 1 a.m. today, the New York Police Department began evacuating the squatters at Zoocotti Park. Many of the protesters left peacefully, but some chained themselves to a tree and each other, claiming that Zoocotti Park was “their park.”
Others were ousted into the streets and began wandering up and down the streets of Manahttan. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne sad about 70 protesters were arrested inside the park and another 30 to 40 were arrested as they tried to stop the evacuation. Among the arrested was City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez.
According to NBC News, those who left “peacefully” set up housekeeping in nearby Foley Square, creating a makeshift headquarters as they weighed their next move. A message on the organizers’ website urged people to meet at Canal Street at 9 a.m., promising, “You can’t evict an idea whose time had come.”
Mayor Bloomberg stated that he and the owners of the plaza, Brookfield Properties, were “increasingly concerned” about the health and fire hazard the occupation poses, used generators and other devices to keep warm.”
“Unfortunately, the park was becoming a place where people came not to protest, but rather to break laws, and in some cases, to harm others,” he said. “The majority of protesters have been peaceful and responsible. But an unfortunate minority has not been – and as the number of protesters has grown, this has created an intolerable situation.”
He said protesters will be welcome to use the park to protest but have to follow the rules.
“Protesters have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags,” he added. “Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments.”
The temporary restraining order said the city could not evict protesters from the park or enforce rules — like no tents, tarps or sleeping bags — that were not made clear until after the occupation began. Before moving in to sweep the park, police handed out letters to protesters ordering them to temporarily evacuate; campers were ordered to remove all their tents. Any tents, sleeping bags or other items left behind in the park would be brought to a sanitation garage, the letter said.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer told NBC New York the overnight raid took him by surprise. He urged police to show restraint and asked protesters not to engage in behavior that would get them arrested. Being arrested, however, is a badge of honor for OWSers.
“It was always my view that people had the right to be in the park to exercise their right to protest. At the moment, I am encouraging both the police and the protesters to stay calm,” Stringer said. “I urge New Yorkers to take a deep breath. Let’s get all the facts before we make a judgment.”
Bloomberg last month tried to evacuate the park so that it could be cleaned. But the cleanup was ultimately postponed when protesters resisted, raising concerns about a showdown between police and the thousand-plus demonstrators camped out at the park.
The mandatory evacuation Tuesday came just two days before a massive Occupy Wall Street demonstration planned for Thursday. Demonstrators were planning to march in front of the New York Stock Exchange Thursday morning, get on subway trains across all five boroughs in the afternoon, then rally near City Hall in the evening. Afterward, they were expected to march to area bridges.
When he was asked Monday to address complaints of local business owners and residents about the Occupy encampment, Bloomberg again hedged on whether he planned to step in.
“We’ll take appropriate action when it’s appropriate,” he said.
Apparently, Bloomberg decided the time was now appropriate. In two days, we’ll be marking the auspicious occasion of the victory of the Bolshevik Party in Russia – Nov. 17th. Meanwhile, a judge will be meeting with all the parties at 11:30 a.m. to determine whether the city has the right to evict the OWS protesters.
The lawyers will probably resort to squatters’ rights arguments. If an “occupant” has previously been given permission to inhabit a property by the owner, even if the agreement is only verbal, and if the occupant is permitted to remain on the property for a certain period, and receives mail at that location as their resident address, the property could become the property of the “occupant.”
The judge may or may not regard the verbal agreement as valid, depending on his or her political persuasion. He or she may also be persuaded by First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, which they’ll extend to “occupying” private property. Such a ruling would set an incredibly dangerous precedent and that may, indeed, be the protesters’ intent.
A ruling like that would allow them to occupy the private property of anyone they choose to protest against. Private property rights are the main target of communist groups. Given enough latitude, they could wind up “occupying” your houses, just like in the movie, Dr. Zhivago.