Occupy Wall Street: Zuccotti Park Cleanup Called Off, Say NY Officials
NEW YORK -- Anti-Wall Street protesters exulted Friday after beating back a plan to clear them from the park they have occupied for the past month, saying the victory will embolden the movement across the U.S. and beyond.
"We are going to piggy-back off the success of today, and it's going to be bigger than we ever imagined," said protester Daniel Zetah.
The showdown in New York came as tensions were rising in several U.S. cities over the spreading protests, with several arrests and scattered clashes between demonstrators and police.
The owners of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan had announced plans to temporarily evict the hundreds of protesters at 7 a.m. Friday so that the grounds could be power-washed. But the protesters feared it was a pretext to break up the demonstration, and they vowed to stand their ground, raising the prospect of clashes with police.
Just minutes before the appointed hour, the word came down that the park's owners, Brookfield Office Properties, had postponed the cleanup. A boisterous cheer went up among the demonstrators, whose numbers had swelled to about 2,000 before daybreak in response to a call for help in fending off the police.
In a statement, Brookfield said it decided to delay the cleaning "for a short period of time" at the request of "a number of local political leaders." It gave no details.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron, a Democrat who represents lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, said he had conversations late into the night urging Brookfield's CEO to wait.
"The stakeholders must come together to find a solution that respects the protesters' fundamental rights, while addressing the legitimate quality-of-life concerns in this growing residential neighborhood," Squadron said in a statement.
Brookfield said it would negotiate with protesters about how the park may be used. But it was unclear when those discussions would occur.
Over the past month, the protest against corporate greed and economic inequality has spread to cities across the U.S. and around the world. Several demonstrations are planned this weekend in the U.S., Canada and Europe, as well as in Asia and Africa.
In Denver, police in riot gear herded hundreds of protesters away from the Colorado state Capitol early Friday, arresting about two dozen people and dismantling their encampment. In Trenton, N.J., protesters were ordered to remove tents near a war memorial. San Diego police used pepper spray to break up a human chain formed around a tent by anti-Wall Street demonstrators.
In New York City, police arrested 15 people, including protesters who obstructed traffic by standing or sitting in the street and others who turned over trash baskets and hurled bottles. A deputy inspector was sprayed in the face with an unknown liquid.
In one case, an observer with the National Lawyers Guild who was marching with the group refused to move off the street for police, and the tip of his foot was run over by an officer's scooter. He fell to the ground screaming and writhing and kicked over the scooter before police flipped him over and arrested him.
And a video posted online showed a police officer punching a protester in the side of the head on a crowded street. Police said the altercation occurred after the man tried to elbow the officer in the face and other people in the crowd jumped on the officer, who was sprayed with a liquid coming from the man's direction. Police said the man, who escaped and was wanted for attempted assault on an officer, later said in an online interview he's HIV positive and the officer should be tested medically.
A man who identified himself as the protester, Felix Rivera-Pitre, said in a statement posted online that he didn't provoke the officer. "I was just doing what everyone else was doing in the march," he said. "It felt like he was taking his frustrations out on me."
Organizers in Des Moines, Iowa, accepted an offer Friday night from the mayor to move from the state Capitol where they were prohibited from staying overnight to a city park blocks away, averting a possible showdown.
Though the park in New York is privately owned, it is required to be open to the public 24 hours per day.
Brookfield, a publicly traded real estate firm, had announced plans to power-wash the plaza section by section over 12 hours and then allow the protesters to return. But it said it would begin enforcing the park's rules against tents, tarps and sleeping bags, complaining the grounds had become unsanitary and unsafe.
The New York Police Department had said it would make arrests if Brookfield requested it and laws were broken.
As the morning deadline drew near, some protesters rushed to scrub and sweep the park and pick up trash in hopes of preventing a crackdown.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose girlfriend is on Brookfield's board of directors, said his staff was under strict orders not to pressure the company one way or the other. He noted that Brookfield can still go ahead with the cleanup at some point.
"My understanding is that Brookfield got lots of calls from many elected officials threatening them and saying, ... `We're going to make your life more difficult,'" he said on his weekly radio show.
In Philadelphia, protester Matt Monk, a freelance writer, was cheered by the news out of New York.
"That means at the very least, the powers-that-be, wherever they are, know that they have to contend with us in a less heavy-handed way," he said.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Patrick Walters in Philadelphia, Patrick Condon in Minneapolis, Mike Householder in Detroit, Colleen Long in New York and Michael J. Crumb in Des Moines, Iowa.