Judge Upholds Eviction of Occupy Wall Street Protesters

A judge upheld New York City’s right to evict Occupy Wall Street protesters from a park on Tuesday after baton-wielding police in riot gear broke up a two-month-old demonstration against economic inequality.

Reclaiming Zucotti Park, under NYPD rules. People were allowed to trickle in via two entrances, carrying no backpacks or other containers that might hold sleeping bags &/or tents. Here occupiers get dinner from a makeshift kitchen across Broadway. Photo: jbrown1993/Flickr

New York Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman has ruled not to extend a temporary restraining order that prevents the eviction of protesters who were encamped at Zuccotti Park, long considered a home base for Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.

Earlier Tuesday a New York judge issued an order Tuesday allowing Occupy Wall Street protesters to return to Zuccotti Park, just hours after scores of riot police ordered them out and tore down their tents.

After the judge’s ruling, police lifted barricades at two points, letting people back in one by one. Several hundred protesters were in the park under a light drizzle, and the crowd thinned as the night wore on. The mood was largely free of tension.

New York police pushed into the park early yesterday morning, forcibly removing demonstrators who had been camping there to protest unemployment, income inequality and the financial industry.

The New York eviction may signal a turning point for the movement as municipal officials seek to curtail sister protests that have sprung up in cities including Oakland, California, Portland, Oregon, and Salt Lake City and in other countries, including Australia where protesters were ordered today to remove their tents from a park in Melbourne’s city center.

Mayor Michel Bloomberg ordered the eviction, saying the square-block Zuccotti Park had become a sanitation hazard and a fire trap.

The decision angered members of a movement that has spread throughout the United States and the world, and it came two days before demonstrators planned to shut down Wall Street outside the New York Stock Exchange.

Officials in New York and elsewhere have cited local ordinances, health and crime as reasons to curtail or end similar demonstrations.

“Conditions at the park had deteriorated to the point that serious concerns about crime, fire hazards and public health needed to be addressed,” Sheryl Neufeld, senior counsel with the New York City Law Department, said in an e-mailed statement. She said protesters will be allowed to return without tents, tarps and sleeping bags.

“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,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “Zuccotti Park will remain open to all who want to enjoy it, as long as they abide by the park’s rules.”

The eviction followed similar actions in Atlanta, Portland and Salt Lake City. Unlike in Oakland, California, where police used tear gas and stun grenades, New York police said most protesters left peacefully.

In London, authorities said they were resuming legal action to try to shift anti-capitalism protesters who have set up camp at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Toronto officials also told protesters to break camp and leave on Tuesday. In Los Angeles, city officials have opened talks with some members of the Occupy L.A. group to work out a timeline for moving their encampment from the lawn surrounding City Hall, where about 500 tents are standing.

Cas Holloway, the city’s deputy mayor for operations, argued in court papers that “the unsafe and unsanitary conditions and the substantial threat to public safety as determined by the police and fire departments” will return if the protesters take over the park as before.

“We’ll have a very large discussion on how to move forward,” said Cecilia McMillan, a 23-year-old graduate student and protester in Zuccotti Park who said she had been working with “Occupy Wall Street” since August. “I’m sure some people will stay in the park.”

“I’m very disappointed,” said Peter Mueller, a 25-year- old illustrator who said he has camped out at the park. “I believe tents are an expression of our First Amendment rights. I would hope there would be some redress.”

“That hurts,” said Ray Lewis, a 59-year-old retired police captain from Philadelphia who now lives in upstate New York, when told about the ruling. He was protesting in his old uniform. “Anyone who is willing to sleep out in this weather is working from a deep, heartfelt place and the court should have acknowledged that.”

“This was not about public health and safety,” said Yetta Kurland, a lawyer for the protesters. “This was a pretext to shut down the occupation.” She said they haven’t yet decided whether to appeal the decision.

Bloomberg, a self-made billionaire whose wealth made him a target of the protesters, ordered the eviction at the request of the park owner, commercial real estate company Brookfield Office Properties.

The mayor’s loyalties have been divided since the protests began. Socially liberal and a supporter of free speech rights, Bloomberg is also a former Wall Street trader who made a fortune selling news and information to the financial industry through his eponymous company, Bloomberg LP.

He has two years left on his third and final 4-year term.

“It’s made him look like a stronger leader. He sought to avoid violence and control what could have been a very difficult situation,” said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “He’ll be remembered for handling this the right way.” [via Reuters, Bloomberg Businessweek, MSN and CNN]

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