Following the forced evacuation of Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park early Tuesday morning, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg explained the decision to temporarily evict protesters was his and his alone.
"I have become increasingly concerned - as had the park's owner, Brookfield Properties - that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protesters and to the surrounding community," Bloomberg said in a statement. "We have been in constant contact with Brookfield and yesterday they requested that the City assist it in enforcing the no sleeping and camping rules in the park. But make no mistake - the final decision to act was mine."
Bloomberg said the protesters' tents and tarps made the park difficult for the public to navigate and nearly impossible for first-responders to guarantee public safety, adding that the "proliferation of tents and other obstructions has created an increasing fire hazard that had to be addressed." On October 28th, the FDNY and NYPD removed the park's generators used to power the protest, saying that it was unsafe to have containers of fuel, gas and diesel.
Bloomberg also cited an incident last week in which an EMT was injured after clashing with a protester at the park and said that although most protesters have been "peaceful and responsible" during the nearly two-month occupation, "an unfortunate minority" have used the space as a place to break laws.
"There have been reports of businesses being threatened and complaints about noise and unsanitary conditions that have seriously impacted the quality of life for residents and businesses in this now-thriving neighborhood," Bloomberg said, adding that accusations that have cropped up have been hard to prove since police are often unable to monitor the situation inside the park.
And although Bloomberg was resolute in his decision to evict the protesters, he tried to make it clear that he's done everything to protect the protesters' First Amendment rights.
"No right is absolute and with every right comes responsibilities. The First Amendment gives every New Yorker the right to speak out - but it does not give anyone the right to sleep in a park or otherwise take it over to the exclusion of others - nor does it permit anyone in our society to live outside the law. There is no ambiguity in the law here - the First Amendment protects speech - it does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space," Bloomberg said. "Protestors have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags. Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments."
Bloomberg said protesters were told they could return to the park, but that the new Brookfield Properties law says they cannot have tents and tarps.
The New York Daily News reports, however, that the National Lawyers Guild filed a restraining order against the city on behalf of Occupy Wall Street Tuesday morning and a judge has issued a court order saying the city cannot prevent "protesters from re-entering the park with tents."
Currently the NYPD has Zuccotti Park blocked off to the public.