Many anti-corporate protesters have returned to a New York park from which they were earlier evicted by police in an effort to continue the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration that has inspired similar protests in cities elsewhere in the US and abroad.
A New York judge ruled earlier on Tuesday that the protesters could no longer pitch tents and other structures in Manhattan’s privately owned Zuccotti Park, after the two-month camp was dismantled by police in a surprise early morning raid.
Police said 200 people were arrested in the operation.
Protesters will be allowed to stay in the park for 24 hours a day, although New York’s winter weather may prove as tough a challenge to their resolve as legal efforts to remove them from the site.
Protesters then spent the day playing cat-and-mouse with authorities as they sought to re-establish their base near Wall Street, the symbolic epicentre of a movement protesting alleged corporate greed.
Police reopened the park in the evening and let the protesters back in one-by-one, but only after the protesters’ legal challenge to the dismantling of the camp was rejected by Michael Stallman, the judge who heard the case.
“No one will be denied entry,” a police officer said at the gate, as people began to wander back in again. Organisers put the number at 1,200.
Once inside, the crowd began to chant: “All day, all week, occupy Wall Street.”
Both sides were claiming a victory of sorts after Stallman ruled that the owners of the park and the authorities were not denying protesters their constitutional right to freedom of speech by banning them from camping.
Earlier in the day, another court had ordered police to stand down and allow protesters to return to the demonstration site.
But 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.
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.
Notices given to the protesters before the raid said the protest posed “an increasing health and fire safety hazard to those camped in the park, the city’s first responders and the surrounding community”.
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.