Clearing (Whose) Park(?)

As police moved in to clear Zuccotti Park for valid health and safety concerns, some of the protesters chanted, “Whose park? Our park.”

Well, no. The protesters, earnest though many are, have it exactly wrong. The park does not belong to them.

City Hall did the right thing by ordering hundreds of officers into the park at about 1 a.m. on Tuesday morning. The site had become a hazard to public health and safety. The protest was unfair to nearby residents who wished only for a decent night’s sleep and to struggling local businesses faced with the ironic decision of having to lay off workers because of a demonstration against (among other things) unemployment.

By morning’s light on Tuesday, dozens of city workers clad in orange vests could be seen inside the park, cleaning and scrubbing the much-abused grounds. Mayor Bloomberg said the demonstrators would be allowed to return to the park after it was tidied up, but the days of sleeping in the park were over. No more makeshift tents. No more drum-banging after midnight.

“Protesters have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “Now they will have to occupy space with the power of their arguments.” (As of this writing, a court ruled that the protesters could return to the park with their tents and sleeping gear, but the city likely will appeal.)

The mayor meant his words to be conciliatory, to show that he was not suppressing free speech, but simply acting on behalf of public health and safety. But in another sense, the mayor’s words were a challenge too. If the protesters have arguments to make, they should make them rather than rely on histrionics and demagoguery.

It’s not certain whether the protesters will be able to accept the mayor’s invitation, at least in any coherent way. One of the protesters told reporters that the police action somehow proves the demonstration’s point. “This reminds everyone who was occupying exactly why they were occupying,” a protester told The New York Times.

That’s a peculiar assertion. While it has been hard to discern a common, agreed-upon agenda from the Occupy movement, there is a sense that most protesters are frustrated with the stagnant economy and, in their view, Wall Street’s complicity in the excesses that led to the crash of 2008.

The actions of the police, carried out under the mayor’s instructions and designed to address issues of safety and public health, had nothing to do with whatever sins the protesters ascribe to Wall Street.  Indeed, the protesters have been invited back to Zuccotti Park—by the mega-capitalist mayor, no less—to make their arguments. Just no sleeping bags, please. And mind the neighbors, if you please.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has sought to identify villains, not an uncommon tendency during hard times. But those villains should not include police officers and their higher-ups, who acted in a timely manner to prevent the movement from becoming a mob.

In that sense, the mayor and the police did the protesters a favor.