Occupy Wall Street protesters have returned to Zuccotti Park–without their tents, sleeping bags or other personal belongings. Protesters were evicted from the park at about one this morning during a late night NYPD raid. A court denied the protesters’ bid to restore their full encampment shortly before 5 p.m.
In the hour before the barricades opened, protesters went through a roller coaster of emotions fueled by false rumors and general confusion. Initially, the atmosphere was electric and celebratory throughout the crowd lining the barricaded park thanks to erroneous reports of a court victory spread via the protesters’ emergency mass text alert system, as well as several impromptu bands that had formed among the crowd.
At approximately 5:15 p.m., word began to spread that the protesters actually lost their case. They called an impromptu meeting outside the barricade at the Southeast corner of the park to plan their next move. A young brunette in a leather jacket addressed the crowd via the call-and-response “people’s mic” that has become a signature element of the protests.
“Apparently, there is an emergency G.A. meeting scheduled right over there,” the woman said pointing to the opposite corner. The crowd repeated each of her words. “Even if the police were to block us, we will all be in one big location and can figure out where to go next as we are not allowed to meet here to discuss how to move forward.”
A group of police wearing riot helmets and wielding batons began to line up behind the protesters who were clearly unsure of what would happen next.
“Can everyone get on social media? We’re trying to find out if anything has been posted,” the woman said with the crowd dutifully repeated her plea for accurate information.
Protesters also sent an emissary to look for representatives from the National Lawyer’s Guild who worked on their case in the hopes they could explain the situation. While they waited, protesters debated attempting to re-take Zuccotti Park, which was still barricaded and being guarded by police officers and neon vested workers from Brookfield Properties, the company that owns the park. A protester discussed the “inspirational” effect breaking through the barricades would have on other Occupy movements around the country. One man suggested they begin discussing other potential locations to avoid having the park become a “golden calf” for the movement.
At 5:33 p.m., as the protesters continued debating their options, police began letting small groups of people through the barricades on the Northwestern side of the park. A protesters ran through Zuccotti waving a sign that read “Grand Re-Opening” and eliciting huge cheers from those still outside the gates. A police officer ensured the group that was meeting on the park’s Southeastern edge that they would be allowed to re-enter the park “in an orderly fashion.”
Protesters began trickling into the park through small openings in the barricades manned by Brookfield staff who turned away anyone who had large bags or other personal items. A policeman used a megaphone to address the protesters.
“Zuccotti Park is now open,” he said.
“Right this way,” directed a police officer on the Cedar street side of the park. “Welcome home.” An occupier passed out cheap ponchos; it had started to rain.
The park has rules now, though. Whereas the N.Y.P.D. had been keeping its distance from the protest, preferring to surround the park rather than walk through it, tonight the police stationed themselves inside. There was to be no standing on the tables. There was to be no crowding around the entrances. “Step back into the park,” one policeman admonished when The Observer tried to get a peek at the line of eager occupiers along Liberty from behind the barricade. “Is this the park?” asked the occupier beside us mischievously, pointing at tiles with his toe. “Or is this the park?”
We noticed, however, that the police did not attempt to stop occupiers from smoking.
Just behind us, a Fox news crew was being surrounded by a small but dense mob of protesters. “Boo!” they chanted. “We don’t want your propaganda!” Members of the N.Y.P.D. stepped in to escort the pair out.
At the east side of the park, one of the “Legal Observers,” the neon-capped witnesses who report to the National Lawyers Guild, fielded questions from irascible occupiers. “If this is our space, how can they give us rules?” a young woman who looked to be about 17 asked in an accusatory tone. “While a lot of that is bullshit because they just don’t want people here, it is reasonable not to allow camping gear and the Supreme Court has ruled on that,” he explained.
“Isn’t it a fire hazard to have people penned in by barricades?” asked a stout protester who looked warm in a mustache and fleece. The Legal Observer affirmed. “There are no fire exits here!” exclaimed the young lady.
Indeed, Zuccotti Park now has three entrances and only one exit, along Trinity Place, where a pair of occupiers carting two boxes of Occupied Wall Street Journals were being ushered out because their cargo was too large. “Beat it,” said one of the cops on the line.
But overall, the mood was gleeful. About 200 protesters were in jail and the infrastructure was in storage at 57th St. Sanit Garage. But the General Assembly began shortly after 7 p.m.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s statement on the re-occupation:
“This morning we planned to re-open Zuccotti Park to the public, including any protestors, at approximately 8:00 AM when the cleaning was completed. The opening of the park was delayed due to legal action taken against the City, but Zuccotti Park is now open to the public. 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 with tents and tarps. The City has the ultimate responsibility to protect public health and safety and we will continue to ensure that everyone can express themselves in New York City. Zuccotti Park will remain open to all who want to enjoy it, as long as they abide by the park’s rules.”
Last updated 7:27 p.m.