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Zuccotti Park Eviction Leaves Protesters Scrambling To Regroup

First Posted: 11/16/11 10:11 AM ET Updated: 11/17/11 01:11 PM ET

By Meghan Barr and Chris Hawley, Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The encampment is gone, but the movement lives on. What nobody knows is just how long it can survive without a literal place to call home.

For Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park was a rallying cry, a symbol of defiance. But in recent weeks, the park itself unwittingly morphed into a mirror image of the world it was trying to change: a microcosm of society rife with crime, drug problems and fights over things like real estate and access to medical care.

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That's why, after protesters were hauled out of the park during a police raid early Tuesday, some organizers believe the loss of their camp is actually a blessing in disguise.

"This is much bigger than a square plaza in downtown Manhattan," said Han Shan, an organizer who was working with churches to find places for protesters to sleep Tuesday night. "You can't evict an idea whose time has come."

The protesters have been camped out in the privately owned park since mid-September and had vowed to stay put indefinitely. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he ordered the sweep because health and safety conditions had become "intolerable" in the crowded plaza. The raid was conducted in the middle of the night "to reduce the risk of confrontation" and "to minimize disruption to the surrounding neighborhood," he said.

By early Tuesday evening, some protesters were being allowed back into the park two by two. But they could each take only a small bag after a judge ruled Tuesday afternoon that their free speech rights do not extend to pitching a tent and setting up camp for months at a time.

Pete Dutro, head of the group's finances, said the loss of the movement's original encampment will open up a dialogue with other cities and take the protest to the next level of action.

"We all knew this was coming," Dutro said. "Now it's time for us to not be tucked away in Zuccotti Park, and have different areas of occupation throughout the city."

Where will they go next remains unclear. Without a place to congregate, protesters will have a difficult time communicating with each other en masse. The leaders of the movement spent most of Tuesday gathering in small groups throughout the city - in church basements, in public plazas and on street corners - and relaying plans in scattered text messages and email.

For now, they're planning to move forward with plans for a day of civil disobedience and marches on Thursday, which has been in the works for weeks. And they'll be joined by angry city leaders who publicly denounced Bloomberg for the nighttime raid.

Robert Harrington, owner of a small importing business in New York, stood outside the barricade with a sign calling for tighter banking regulations.

"To be effective it almost has to move out of the park," Harrington said. "It's like the antiwar movement in the `60s, which started as street theater and grew into something else."

"The issues," he added, "are larger than just this camp."

The next challenge is figuring out how to decentralize the movement and give it staying power.

"People are really recognizing that we need to build a movement here," Shan said. "What we're dedicated to is not just about occupying space. That's a tactic."

The aggressive raid seemed to mark a shift in the city's dealings with the Wall Street protests. Only a week ago, Bloomberg privately told a group of executives and journalists that he thought reports of problems at the park had been exaggerated and didn't require any immediate intervention.

It was the third raid of a major camp in a span of three days, as police broke up camps Sunday in Portland, Ore., and Monday in Oakland, Calif.

The timing did not appear to be coincidental. On Tuesday, authorities acknowledged that police departments across the nation consulted with each other about nonviolent ways to clear encampments. Officers in as many as 40 cities participated in the conference calls.

When New York police began their crackdown at 1 a.m., most of the Occupy Wall Street protesters were sleeping.

Officers arrived by the hundreds and set up powerful klieg lights to illuminate the block. They handed out notices from Brookfield Office Properties, the park's owner, and the city saying that the plaza had to be cleared because it had become unsanitary and hazardous.

Many people left, carrying their belongings with them. Others tried to make a stand, locking arms or even chaining themselves together with bicycle locks.

Dennis Iturralde was fast asleep on a cot when the shouting woke him up. Dark figures were running through the tents in the dim orange light of streetlamps. Something slammed into the cot, flipping him to the ground.

"They were tearing everything apart," Iturralde said. "They were hitting people, spraying people if they didn't move fast enough."

Within minutes, police in riot gear had swarmed the park, ripping down tents and tarps. The air was filled with the sound of rustling tarps, rumbling garbage trucks, shouts and equipment crashing to the ground.

Around 200 people were arrested, including a member of the City Council and dozens who tried to resist the eviction by linking arms in a tight circle at the center of the park.

At least a half-dozen journalists were arrested later in the day, including a reporter and photographer from The Associated Press who were held for four hours before being released.

In contrast to the scene weeks ago in Oakland, where a similar eviction turned chaotic and violent, the police action was comparatively orderly. But some protesters complained of being hit by police batons and shoved to the ground.

The police commissioner said officers gave the crowd 45 minutes to retrieve their belongings before starting to dismantle tents, and let people leave voluntarily until around 3:30 a.m., when they moved in to make mass arrests.

"Arresting people is not easy," he said, adding that he thought the officers "showed an awful lot of restraint in the face of "an awful lot of taunting, people getting in police officers' faces, calling them names."

The ouster at Zuccotti Park came as a rift within the movement had been widening between the park's full-time residents and the movement's power players, most of whom no longer lived in the park.

Some residents of the park have been grumbling about the recent formation of a "spokescouncil," an upper echelon of organizers who held meetings at a high school near police headquarters. Some protesters felt that the selection of any leaders whatsoever wasn't true to Occupy Wall Street's original anti-government spirit: That no single person is more important or more powerful than another person.

"Right now we're in the organizing stages of building a national movement," said protester Sandra Nurse. "I think this is going to serve as more momentum to draw people in."

___

Associated Press writers Samantha Gross, Verena Dobnik, Karen Matthews and Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.


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Via HuffPost Miami:

When an Occupy Miami member offered evicted protestors vacant apartments in a building he owns in Downtown Miami's Overtown neighborhood, it seemed like the perfect solution: the 'Peace City' space would provide headquarters for the movement and shelter a small faction of the group's most vulnerable members. But it hasn't gone well. Other tenants say the building has become a cesspool of drug use and violence while non-resident Occupy Miami members are trying to distance themselves from the 'radicals' -- all while the two factions are wrestling for control over Occupy Miami's social media sites and future plans.

From the Miami New Times:

The feud between the Overtown occupiers and more mainstream members has only gotten worse. The two factions are now battling for control of Occupy Miami's social media sites. The movement's main Twitter account recently announced it had been "hijacked by a small, non-consensus group of radical members." The Occupy Miami Facebook page was also temporarily hacked by someone inside Peace City. Meanwhile, the Overtown occupation is slowly driving away more moderate members.

"This is a black eye on the Occupy movement," says Shannon Reaze, an Overtown community organizer and Occupy Miami supporter who is now helping tenants move out of Paz's building. "The violence and drugs going on here are way outside of what I thought Occupy stood for. This place is destabilized."

...The supposedly hard-core activists here spend their days drinking and getting high. And as Peace City devolves into lawlessness, the most committed occupiers are leaving. Local landowners and politicians want the place shut down, while cops are suspicious. Yet as long as Paz wants the protesters around, nothing short of a demolition order can keep them out.

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Via HuffPost DC:

WASHINGTON -- Occupy DC has a new lawsuit involving tents on its hands. But it doesn't involve temporary structures in McPherson Square.

Two protesters arrested during a February action outside Merrill Lynch's offices on 15th Street NW near McPherson Square have filed suit against the Metropolitan Police Department, Legal Times reports. (Read the complaint here.)

The plaintiffs, Samuel Dukore and Kelly Canavan, were part of a "targeted occupation" of Merrill Lynch on Feb. 13 where protesters were raising awareness about Merrill Lynch's reportedly close ties with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Issa, for his part, claims that the reports of these close ties are "wildly inaccurate."

Full story here.

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OWS reports via its website:

After the brutal attack on the attempted re-occupation of Liberty Square by NYPD on the 6-month anniversary of #OWS, a number of Occupiers have relocated their base of occupation to Union Square in midtown Manhattan, a point of convergence for several #OWS protests over the past 6 months.

According to reports on the ground, several dozen people slept in the park after the illegal and violent raid on Liberty Square. Over 70 people remain, now on Day 3. Although tents and tables are still banned, Occupiers have brought blankets and sleeping gear. Many are calling it ¨the new Occupation.¨ In addition to holding General Assemblies, Union Square Occupiers are providing vital jail support for those arrested on #M17 as they are released from NYPD custody. So far, the NYPD has made no attempt to remove Occupiers or prevent them from sleeping in the park.

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Occupy Long Beach is defending the mother's home. For more information, click here.

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The woman had the apparent seizure has been identified by the New York Observer as Cecily McMillan:

Cecily McMillan, an Occupy Wall Street activist once profiled in Rolling Stone, suffered a seizure Saturday night during protest action near Zuccotti Park. Many on-scene reported Ms. McMillan had trouble breathing after she was tackled and handcuffed by law enforcement.

A video uploaded to Youtube late Saturday night purports to show the attack. Two women can be heard commenting, “There’s Cecily,” then there is confusion as the police clearly perform a violent take-down on someone in the crowd.

According to Jeff Sharlet’s November, 2011 article about the Occupy Movement, this may be Ms. McMillan’s second violent encounter with police.

To read the full story, go here.

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Cops caught on video about 10 seconds in taking down the woman who had the apparent seizure:

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Watch video from inside Zuccotti Park as police moved in late last night:

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The paper reports from last night's chaos at Zuccotti Park:

At one point, a woman who appeared to be suffering from seizures flopped on the ground in handcuffs as bystanders shouted for the police to remove the cuffs and provide medical attention. For several minutes the woman lay on the ground as onlookers made increasingly agonized demands until an ambulance arrived and the woman was placed inside.

By 12:20 a.m., a line of officers pushed against some of the remaining protesters, forcing them south on Broadway, at times swinging batons and shoving people to the ground.

Kobi Skolnick, 30, said that officers pushed him in several directions and that as he tried to walk away, he was struck from behind in the neck. “One of the police ran and hit me with a baton,” he said.

To read the full story, go here.

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@ Greg_Palast : Our photographer ZD Roberts beaten @OWS Zucotti Park by cops. Thrown to ground, hair grabbd, hit with clubs while yelling, I'M PRESS PRESS!

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@ macfathom : Doubling east on Barclay, and now the ragged front of the march is at City Hall. #OWS

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@ LuddoftheFuture : girl in the street having a seizure and the cops have her in handcuffs. can this get any worse (live at http://t.co/4pLyy3gP)

Activists cry out for paramedics. The woman is limp on the ground. "Come on you violent bastards where's the paramedics?"

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@ jeffrae : March is heading north up broadway #ows #occupywallstreet

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@ macfathom : Dozens of arrests, many cuffed and sitting on broadway waiting for their ride to jail. #OWS

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@ RDevro : Police are barricading the park. It's cleared. I witnessed countless violent arrests. No way to estimate numbers.

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@ troutish : Protesters being dragged out by the head at #OWS #Zucotti Park http://t.co/qomhKkrA

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Cops pulling apart human chains. There are shouts for mic checks. Now, chants start forming. "The NYPD are sweeping through," says Tim on the live stream.

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@ ANIMALNewYork : Police are moving in. It's chaos.

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@ ANIMALNewYork : NYPD just made an announcement that Brookfield has to "clean the park" and Liberty Plaza is officially "closed."

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@ OccupyWallStNYC : Bagpipers just started marching into the park bringing the party mood with them, NYPD arrested one of them, and things got real heated. #OWS

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@ JackieHRye : NYPD just "destroyed" the tent in Zuccotti Park, Occupiers call for its re-building. Marching band also going through the park. #OWS

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@ RDevro : The tent in the middle of the park continues to fill with people planning to stay the night. Lots of energy here.

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Activists ask for more room as the tent is growing, expanding.

"It looks like a floating tent." -- as Tim on his live stream.

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Owly Images

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@ OccupyWallStNYC : .@justawall is leading us in a song! "Hit the road, banks! And don't ya come back no more no more no more no more!" #OWS

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Activists have assembled make-shift, cardboard sleeping areas inside Zuccotti Park. The cardboard is joined by a large green tarp.

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@ RDevro : A tarp is going up in Zuccotti as protesters march around the park chant-dancing. #m17 http://t.co/rJfP3GF9

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Filed by Jonah Green  |