Occupy Wall Street Faces major Setback
Occupiers Denied tents and cold weather gear for Winter
The New York Occupy Wall Street protesters, who started the now-global 'Occupy movement', have been dealt a devastating and potentially fatal setback, masterminded by NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In the early morning hours of Tuesday, November 15th, between 1am and 2am, a surprise police raid came down upon the protesters while most of them were asleep. All the usual public spectators were gone for the night. Hundreds of police officers were involved. The operation was kept hush-hush, and no one (not the media, the public or the protesters) knew it was coming. Police trucks rolled in at about One o'clock, taking up positions near the park. Police turned on Klieg Lights and made announcements through loudspeakers that the park was to be evacuated immediately. Officers spread leaflets across the park spelling out the eviction order.
By 1:45, officers were moving through the park, clearing out protesters and hurrying the eviction along. The police set up a perimeter outside the park to keep anyone from returning or any suporters of the occupiers from entering. 140 people who refused to leave were arrested. Among those arrested was a City Council member, Ydanis Rodriquez, who rushed to the scene when he heard what was happening and was arrested two blocks from the park for trying to pass a police barricade.
At around 2am, a core group of protesters who refused to leave locked arms, and some tied themselves to trees. The tactic was only a minor delay and by 3:30, the park was cleared of everyone. The belongings left behind were gathered up (such as the Occupiers 5,000 book library) and at 4:00 am, sanitation crews came in to start clearing out anything left behind and scrubbing the park down.
There were a few clashes, including a point where protesters threw objects at a police car. One protester and one officer have been hospitalized. The media arrived but they were not allowed to enter the area. The excuse given was that it was for "their own safety". Most reporters were prevented from seeing the police action take place and claim to have been handled "roughly" by officers who made them leave the scene. This strange action hid the raid from public scrutiny.
The protesters wandered the streets and by 6am, they had regrouped at nearby Foley Square, which has been a frequent rallying point for the Occupiers. After an impromptu public meeting there, they headed to Duarte Square, a nearby park under construction which has been closed down. Protesters climbed the fence and gathered inside the currently unused park. Construction workers supported the protesters.
Mayor Bloomberg announced that the protesters would be allowed back later in the day but would not be allowed to bring their tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, heaters or any winter gear. He claimed that their constitutional rights to free speech and free assembly did not extend to camping out. The Mayor said they could go back anytime they want and protest again, but they could not bring anything with them that would indicate an overnight stay.
By as early as 7:30 in the morning, protesters had already begun their legal counter-attack, asking for a ruling on the legality of the eviction. A few hours later, Manhattan Supeme Court Justice Lucy Billings, a former civil liberties lawyer, ruled that the mayor's crackdown was unconstitutional and that the protesters must be allowed back with all their property, including the tents. Bloomberg, however, disagreed.
The Mayor blatantly ignored the court ruling and ordered police to continue the cordon around the park until he found another judge, Michael Stallman, who supported the Mayor's decision. The tent's were locked away in storage, as were other items seized in the raid.
The protesters have been allowed to return to the park since but security has been added to Zuccotti park. Both police and hired private security men have been stationed at the park's four entrances to search anyone entering the park, in order to confiscate any over-night gear or other items that might indicate a long stay.
With the winter approaching, the Mayor is obviously using the classic Russian war strategy of allowing the cold to soften up the enemy for them. Without sleeping bags, tents or heaters, there is no way for the protestors to survive the upcoming winter months. Several weeks ago, when NY had a freak October snowstorm, the Mayor and police commissioner Kelly confiscated all the heaters from Zuccotti Park, which caused several protesters to suffer hypo-thermia and other cold-related health problems. The heaters were ordered returned by a judge but now they are gone again, along with everything else.
Several injuries were reported, including councilmen Rodriquez who was seen on TV with a bleeding gash on his forehead, received while being arrested. The Mayor claims that all the injuries were self-inflicted by the protesters to make the police look bad.
Bloomberg claims that the raid was done for the sake of "Public safety" (claiming that rapes and assaults were going on in the park, although none have been reported) and public sanitation (Although the protesters have kept the park clean, dispensing of garbage and using public washrooms, despite the Mayor refusing to supply the movement with Porto-potties.)
Many city official have lambasted the Mayor for his heavy-handed tactics. City Councilmen Rodriquez remained in custody most of the day, refusing to use his clout to have himself released, just to make a point. Some members of the media are questioning the Mayor' s decision to create a press blackout of the event. State Assemblyman Sheldon Silver says he was shocked when he heard about the early-morning raid.
The actions of Mayor Bloomberg throughout this event have been questionable at best and unconscionable at worst. Let's look at his actions.
He claims to be an advocate of free speech but ignored a judicial ruling in favor of the protester's rights to free speech and assembly.
He owns several news media outlets but denied reporters access to the scene of a major news story, creating a news blackout of the event.
He claims the raid was for "health and Safety" reasons, and yet he is trying to freeze-out hundreds of people by denying them winter gear in the cold weather.
He got support two years ago from the city council to extend term limits so he could become a three-term mayor but then approves of the arresting of a city councilman for simply being at the site of a protest.
He publicly misinterpreted the protesters on TV by saying they are protesting against "stockbrokers who make $50,000 a year." Not true. They are protesting against the richest one percent of the country. (Of which Bloomberg is one. He is the 12th richest man in America.)
He claims that occupiers were inconveniencing members of the public who want to use Zuccotti Park, but now anyone who goes into the park has to be searched and will be turned away if they are carrying anything which can be interpreted as overnight gear.
He has mismanaged two natural disasters (The blizzard last year and the almost-hurricane this year, getting lots of criticism for both) and now he over-compensates for that, and mismanages the ousting of protesters (Again getting criticism.)
He recently had a large group of protesters arrested for briefly blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, but then had traffic on the bridge blocked himself for several days, inconveniencing New Yorkers for almost a week, so that the latest "Batman" movie could be filmed there.
If the Mayor hopes that the protesters will disappear peacefully, he is going to be disappointed. Members of the movement have vowed to fight a court battle to win the right to return to Zuccotti park. In the meantime, they are being temporarily housed by churches and other groups who support their cause and who see the Mayor's actions as cruel and unconstitutional.
The Mayor has made a tactical mistake. The Occupy Movement was losing it's media luster and if he had continued to ignore it, the fickle public may have forgotten about this old news and moved on to other things. This new event, however, has brought it back to the front page. Every time the police or the Mayor have exerted unnecessary force (The pepper-spray incident; the shrapnel from the tear-gas canister that injured an army veteran, etc.) it has only made the movement grow. This unfair eviction will most likely help the occupy Movement gain new supporters. And even if the NY chapter of the Occupy Movement is forced to retreat for the winter, the cause is still going strong around the country and around the world.
Despite Mayor Bloomberg's efforts, this is not the end!