Court rules against Wall Street ‘occupation’

After raid leads to arrest of 200 people at New York City protest, court says protesters can return but not set up camp.

A New York judge has upheld the city’s dismantling of the Occupy Wall Street encampment, saying that while protesters are free to return to the park that has become the epicentre of a worldwide movement, they cannot set up any structures there.

Michael Stallman, a New York supreme court judge, denied on Tuesday a motion by demonstrators seeking to be allowed back into Zuccotti Park with their tents and sleeping bags, after they had been forcibly evicted by the police earlier in the day.

Stallman ruled that the protesters’ rights under the first amendment of the US constitution, which guarantees free speech, did not give them the right to set up structures in the park as part of their protest.

Protesters are, however, allowed to stay at the park 24 hours a day.

In a statement issued shortly after the verdict was announced, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, said the courts 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”.

“Zuccotti Park will remain open to all who want to enjoy it, as long as they abide by the park’s rules,” the statement said.

Legal battle

Earlier in the day, another court had ordered police to stand down and allow Occupy Wall Street protesters to return to the demonstration site that they were forcefully evicted from by hundreds of police in riot gear.

Just hours after Zuccotti Park was emptied in a pre-dawn police raid, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) obtained a court order allowing demonstrators to return with their tents to the park.

The camp, which was set up in September to protest against economic inequality, has inspired similar protests around the world.

Notices given to the protesters before the raid said the protest “poses an increasing health and fire safety hazard to those camped in the park, the city’s first responders and the surrounding community”.

Hundreds arrested

Ray Kelly, the New York police commissioner, confirmed that 200 protesters were arrested on Tuesday, 142 of them in Zuccotti park and 50 to 60 others in the surrounding area.

Bloomberg said the city wanted to protect people’s rights, but if a choice must be made, it would protect “public safety”.

Following the evictions, the park was power-washed clean by sanitation workers, and the make-shift kitchen, library and other materials in the park were confiscated or destroyed.

Police in riot gear ringed the public space, waiting for orders to reopen it.

City officials told protesters that they could come back after the cleaning, but under new tougher rules.

They would be allowed to protest, but without tents, sleeping bags or tarpaulins, which would effectively put an end to the encampment if enforced.

“History is on the side of the Occupy movement, not those who try to suppress it.”

– Dan Siegel, former legal adviser to Oakland’s mayor

“The law that created Zuccotti Park required that it be open for the public to enjoy for passive recreation 24 hours a day,” Bloomberg said.

“Ever since the occupation began, that law has not been complied with, as the park has been taken over by protesters, making it unavailable to anyone else.”

That position has now been upheld by the New York supreme court.

Police ‘occupation’

Following the evictions, hundreds of former Zuccotti Park residents and their supporters marched along Lower Manhattan.

Some paused and locked arms outside the gates of City Hall but left when police in riot gear appeared. About 300 to 400 kept moving along the pavements.

“We are back at Zuccotti Park and the roles have been reversed,” Al Jazeera’s Cath Turner reported from near the park.

“There are about 50 police in the middle of the park and about 100 or so around the perimeter. The protesters have surrounded the park, some are slowly marching around the edge.”

Some were chanting: “This is what democracy looks like”.

Others chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, our billionaire mayor has got to go,” referencing Bloomberg, whose wealth is reportedly valued at nearly $20bn.

In a press release, the NLG said that in the process of the raid, “[police] destroyed property and arrested dozens of occupiers and protesters including NYC council member Ydanis Rodriguez and District Leader Paul Newell”.

Health and safety

Health and safety issues have been used as reasoning for cracking down on or evicting Occupy camps around the US, with protesters ordered to take down their shelters, adhere to curfews and relocate so that parks can be cleaned.

The argument was used in Oakland, California, on Monday morning when police cleared out the Occupy Oakland encampment for the third time.

More than 1,000 protesters in the California city returned on Monday evening to decide what to do next.

In the wake of Oakland’s police crackdown, the mayor’s top legal adviser on police, Dan Siegel, resigned, sending his resignation letter in at 2am on Monday morning, just before police raided the city’s protest camp.

“I regret taking this action, but I cannot be part of an administration that sanctions police attacks on peaceful protesters attempting to reverse this society’s cruel and undemocratic policies,” Siegel’s letter read.

“It is almost beyond belief that our city has become the most hostile in the nation towards this new and positive movement for change.

“History is on the side of the Occupy movement, not those who try to suppress it.”

Among more than 30 demonstrators arrested by Oakland police early on Monday was a man whose immigration documentation was reportedly incomplete.

A lawyer in Oakland told Al Jazeera that although most of those arrested had been released by mid-afternoon, the man continued to be held in jail awaiting turnover to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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