NEW YORK -- On the day of an unexpected 1 a.m. police raid on Zuccotti Park, where New York City cops evicted the protesters, dismantled the two-month old tent city and arrested hundreds, the Occupy Wall Street movement is facing what may be its most critical moment yet.
Beginning early Tuesday morning, police surrounded Zuccotti and announced that the park must be emptied to be "cleared and restored."
While protesters could return in the morning, police officials said at the time, they would not be allowed to bring back the tents and sleeping bags that had previously coated the 33,000-foot concrete rectangle. By nightfall, a court challenge brought by protesters had failed to override the city’s actions, leaving the protesters’ continued occupation of the park to an uncertain fate.
Police gave protesters a choice: stay, be stripped of all your belongings and face arrest, or leave peacefully. Those who left joined hundreds of other protesters wandering the financial district, corralled by ever tightening police barricades and facing a basic problem: what to do now that the movement had lost its hub.
The raid decimated the infrastructure of the movement, removing supplies and uprooting protesters from the movement’s birthplace. Whether it was a mortal blow or merely the latest obstacle for what is now a global movement is still unclear. Some protesters expressed hopes it would allow their movement, which has faltered in the face of internal struggles and safety concerns, a chance to start again and emerge stronger.
At a press conference Tuesday morning, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg explained the city’s actions.
"From the beginning, I have said that the City had two principal goals: guaranteeing public health and safety, and guaranteeing the protesters' First Amendment rights,” he said. “But when those two goals clash, the health and safety of the public and our first responders must be the priority.”
By Tuesday afternoon, a core group of 20 or so protesters were stationed at 50 Broadway -- an office space recently donated to the movement that, as the crisis developed, transformed into an information hub -- attempting to coordinate protesters still walking the streets and account for the night's losses. They were significant.
"We are stretched very thin right now, a lot of our best folks are locked up," said Haywood, an occupier who only goes by one name and has been living in the park for more than a month.
According to police commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, nearly 200 people had been arrested as of Tuesday morning. Like many protesters surveyed Tuesday, Haywood has the phone number for the National Lawyer's Guild -- he'd scrawled it in permanent marker on his upper arm. If you're arrested, the cops take your cellphone. "This is your one call," he said, slapping his arm.
But the early morning raid, Haywood continued, did more damage to the movement than just shrink the body of occupiers.
Haywood, bald with a full red beard, was sitting at a long table at 50 Broadway, where sleeping bags, tents and stuffed backpacks rescued from the park in the pre-dawn hours were piled in the corners. What was lost in the park, he said, was "priceless." A handful of others sitting around, typing on laptops or sipping coffee, nodded.
"If you want to put a price on the tents, the medical supplies, the kitchen equipment, the laptops, the library, I think it's somewhere edging up towards six figures," Hayword said. "Let's say $80,000."
Some of the protesters pointed to a supposed silver lining: While Zuccotti Park may have been the heart of the occupy movement, it was not without significant problems. In recent weeks, protesters struggled to deal with drug use, assaults and theft -- as well as an increasingly divided populace. And then, there was the ever looming threat of winter. If the occupiers are allowed to move back in to Zuccotti, or another space, this could be a chance to start anew.
"The problems that were in Zuccotti were huge, and now they're gone," said Hall Powell, a protester involved in numerous working groups, committees focused around issues related to the movement, including town planning and architecture. "Now, we'll be able to learn from all the things that we've done, and things we've been unable to do."
But regaining the park is a big if.
After a day of legal wrangling between the protesters' lawyers, Brookfield properties -- the park's owner -- and the city, a judge ruled shortly before 5 p.m. that Brookfield has a right to enforce rules inside Zuccotti Park -- those rules include no sleeping and no tents in the park. But the lawyers for the protesters claimed after the 5:00 p.m. ruling that there's nothing barring them from returning. How the protesters will respond to this ruling, announced late Tuesday afternoon, remains an open question.
"It's definitely a lot of figuring out how to create something positive moving forward from the chaos," said Autumn, an occupier who has taken on many more tasks -- media outreach, to name one -- in the last 12 hours to fill in for those arrested. "Because there's a lot of really good energy right now, if you can capture it in a way that moves this protest forward."
Haywood nodded, reflecting on the other mass arrests that have taken place in the last two months at occupations in New York City and around the country. "There is a distinct pattern here: Every escalation of police arrests and violence is met with exponential levels of support."
But that support has yet to fully materialize. While unions have come down to the lower Manhattan and sent supportive press releases, many of those at 50 Broadway said they expected more from organized labor.
"Where is the institutional support? I don't see it," said Shen Tong, a protester and a former student leader of the Tiananmen square protests in 1989. While it's too soon to tally the donations gained, the support on the street from unions and other organized groups, Tong said, has been lacking.
Haywood said he was withholding his full judgement until this evening's General Assembly, where he said he expects -- and hopes -- to see greater crowds. Today, he estimated, was an average turnout for a Tuesday, no more. "I'm waiting to see what happens tonight, but it does worry me."
"I'm very disappointed," Tong said. "Events like last night, this is usually how you escalate and deepen the movement. But so far, on the streets, we see more uniforms than anything else."
"It's not clear yet if this is a movement or a moment," he went on, surrounded by exhausted occupiers and half eaten take-out. "If this is a moment, we're facing some serious problems. If this is a movement this could be the best thing that's happened to us."
HOW IT ALL WENT DOWN
In a movement that has elevated the drum circle to an icon of social change and a target of heated controversy and ire, it seems fitting that possibly the first person to have warned the protesters of the coming raid was a famous drummer.
At about 10 p.m. Monday night, QuestLove, the drummer for the hip-hop band The Roots, was driving down South Street when he saw something that made him reach for whatever device he Tweets with. "Something bout to go down yo," he wrote, "swear I counted 1000 rito [sic] gear cops bout to pull sneak attack."
By 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, QuestLove's predication had come true. Hundreds of police officers had descended on the park, evicting protesters and arresting those who stood in their way. According to occupiers, the police announced that they had 15 minutes to gather their belongings and get out.
Kevin Sheneberger, a 28-year-old cook who participates in the information working group, said that he'd learned of the raid while sitting in a bar with a number of other protesters who had gone out to celebrate a successful meeting. They immediately ran over to the park, where, he said, a police official told protesters to leave and promised they'd be able to retrieve their belongings at a later time. Sheneberger said he then watched as the police gathered tents, sleeping bags, bicycle generators, raw food, thousands of books from the group's library and countless other belongings, and then threw the property into the open mouths of several New York City sanitation trucks waiting by the sidewalk.
Video produced by Adam Kaufman
In the hours after the eviction, protesters circled the blocks surrounding the park, blocked in and corralled by the police at every intersection. A 25-year-old web developer named Leia Doran said the police pushed a crowd of protesters down Broadway shortly after evicting them, prodding them with their nightsticks. She said she was standing in the front line of protesters, urging the police to be careful, when an officer reached out and slapped her with an open hand.
"Maybe I've been privileged," she said, "but nothing like that has every happened to me."
Many grabbed what they could and headed over to Foley Square, one of several places outside of Zuccotti that the OWS movement has claimed as a rallying point and gathering place. There they held a General Assembly session -- an "emergency GA," they called it -- and tried to piece together a clear picture of what was happening. A smaller group eventually broke off and marched to a dusty vacant lot on Canal Street and Sixth Avenue.
By 9 a.m., several hundred protesters had gathered at the Canal Street lot. Soon, the protesters heard that a judge in the New York State Supreme Court named Lucy Billings had issued a temporary restraining order against the city. Billing's order should have governed affairs at the park until the afternoon hearing in Stallman's court began around noon, the protesters' lawyers said. But police refused to allow protesters into the park throughout the day.
"This morning, the mayor and this police force knowingly violated a court order when they continued to bar access to the park," said Yetta Kurland, a member of the National Lawyers Guild who helped secure the early morning emergency court order and represented the protesters in court Tuesday afternoon. "We do not live in a police state. The mayor is also subject to the rule of law."
After congregating at the lot on Canal St., a group of protesters peeled off and marched back to Zuccotti, shouting that they intended to take back the park. Several in the crowd held copies of the court injunction.
As the group marched down West Broadway, Murray Street and finally Church Street, the mood got increasingly tense. A protester wearing a brown leather jacket stepped off the curb to avoid walking into a pile of trash bags, and a police officer shoved him with the side of his nightstick and ordered him to get back on the sidewalk. The protester yelled in his face: "You work for me!"
At Zuccotti Park, the group found the park blocked off by metal barricades.
"You're in contempt of court!" many shouted at the police. About a hundred protesters marched between two barricades on either side of the sidewalk in an attempt to get to Broadway, only to find that the end of the street had been blocked off too, forming a pen. "It's a trap! It's a trap!" protesters yelled. The police eventually removed that barricade.
Ethan Buckner, 21, was with the group who marched from Sixth and Canal to Zuccotti around 10:00 a.m. When he attempted to show a copy of the ruling to a Brookfield security officer once he arrived at Zuccotti, he was rebuffed.
Bruckner and a friend then attempted to jump the barricade. He was immediately tossed to the ground, he said, as six cops and security guards grabbed him and forcefully flung him back over the barricade. A few hours later he was wearing a bandage on his arm. He also said he’d injured his knee.
Meanwhile, as many as 200 protesters were winding their way through the gears of the city's court system. After the police had initially ordered everyone to leave, perhaps 150 protesters disobeyed their orders and were arrested. Several who stayed but managed to evade arrest later said they saw the police fire pepper spray into the faces of immobilized members of the kitchen working group, who had fastened themselves to the kitchen structure with U-shaped bicycle locks around their necks.
Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, protesters and media continued to arrive at Zuccotti, where they stood on the sidewalks surrounding the park and waited for news from the courthouse.
Some protesters made a show of reading the injunction to the cops and the private security guards stationed around the park. One young man jumped over the barricade waving an American flag, and was promptly arrested. A member of the cigarette-rolling group sat on the sidewalk, offering doses of nicotine and words of encouragement. "Hand-rolled has that love, you know?" he said.
Claims of abuse at the hand of the police flew through the crowd on Tuesday afternoon, and there were plenty of media types on hands to listen. A clutch of people with cameras and notepads surrounded a petite woman named Hilary Bettis, who said that police had rammed her with the side of a nightstick 15 or 16 times. "They told me I had no rights," she said. "I've never felt less like a human being in my life." She also claimed that the police had grabbed a girl who was standing next to her, pulled her out of the crowd, and pressed her face against the pavement.
Not everyone outside the park on Tuesday afternoon supported the protest. A man in a beige suit named Alan Feuer, who said he worked on Wall Street as a broker, offered words of sympathy to one of the cops standing by the barricades. He didn't like the protesters either, he said. "They don't understand economics. They're stupid."
At his Tuesday morning press conference, Mayor Bloomberg insisted that the pre-dawn raid was temporary and designed to "reduce the risk of confrontation and to minimize destruction in the surrounding neighborhood."
But, after the 5 p.m. ruling affirming Brookfield's right to enforce no-camping rules in the park, Dan Alterman, a lawyer representing the protesters, questioned the legality of much of the city's actions over the last 18 hours.
"If Mayor Bloomberg was so sure this met constitutional muster, then why did he do it in the dead of night with a phalanx of police officers?" he said to a crowd of reporters gathered on the New York Supreme Court Steps.
As of now it remains unclear whether protesters will be able to move back into the park, or if they can't, how the change will affect the broader movement. Earlier this afternoon, Bill Dobbs, who works in Occupy Wall Street's public relations group, reflected on the importance of the 33,000 square foot space in downtown Manhattan.
"It's a sliver of land," he said. "It's smaller than a suburban house plot. Its power comes from the people within it."
Video produced by Adam Kaufman
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