The Occupy Wall Street movement has suffered a legal setback that prevents protesters from using an encampment in a New York City park to spread its message. The ruling distinguishes between free speech and the occupation of a park used by the general public.
Police maintained a heavy presence in Zuccotti Park throughout the day as city officials and protesters awaited the decision by New York Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman. He denied a motion filed on behalf of demonstrators to allow them back into the park with tents and sleeping bags. Stallman sided with city officials who voiced concerns about the tents, and also about health and safety concerns in the crowed encampment.
There was also a heavy police presence outside New York City Hall, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg said earlier that no right is absolute.
"There is no ambiguity here, the law here," he said. "The First Amendment [to the U.S. Constitution] protects speech. It does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space."
Police in riot gear raided the Occupy Wall Street encampment at one in the morning. They arrested about 200 protesters,, many of them on charges of resisting the eviction. Cleanup crews hauled away tents and sleeping bags. Protesters claim authorities also disposed of the movement’s library of more than 5,000 books. Police kept news reporters at a distance. Mayor Bloomberg said the reason was "to protect the members of the press."
Where tents packed the park a day before, police ensured protesters would not reoccupy Zuccotti Park. Some, however, taunted the police.
"What you all did last night was wrong. Shame on every one of you!" said one.
Protesters are clearly disappointed, but many said the Occupy movement will continue. During his seven weeks at the encampment, David Intrator beat drums and played the saxophone. He says that movement does not necessarily depend on the occupation of a park.
"It’s kind of a mental thing," he said. "I think ultimately that has a great effect. The occupation first starts here (points to head) in your understanding of what kind of society you would like, and how you’d like to be in that society. And it all flows from that."
The Occupy movement began nearly two months ago and focused attention on corporations and the wealthiest one percent of Americans that protesters say have corrupted the country’s political system. In recent days, authorities have also dispersed Occupy protests in other U.S. cities.
Judge Stallman’s decision is consistent with Mayor Bloomberg’s statement that protesters may return to the park to exercise their free speech rights, but they may not stay overnight.