A New York judge backed the authorities’ decision to ban tents in a Manhattan park where a two-month old protest camp was cleared out earlier, after a pre-dawn raid on the Occupy Wall Street camp.
Protesters faced off with police after being kicked out of their tent camp in Zuccotti Park, as they sought to re-establish a base to continue their anti-capitalist protests.
The ruling by Judge Michael Stallman rejected an earlier court motion that put a temporary stay on the city’s decision to ban Occupy Wall Street protesters from returning to Zuccotti Park with tents and other camping gear.
The “petitioner’s application for a temporary restraining order is denied,” the judge wrote.
The ruling came the same day as riot police ejected hundreds of protesters from the square where they had maintained an elaborate campground since September 17.
City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that protesters would be free to return to the private park at any time of day, but would not be allowed to sleep there, as stipulated in rules set by the owners.
Addressing a key issue, Stallman ruled that the owners of the park and the authorities were not denying protesters their constitutional right to freedom of speech by banning them from camping there.
“The movants have not demonstrated that they have a First Amendment right to remain in Zuccotti Park, along with their tents, structures, generators, and other installations to the exclusion of the owner’s reasonable rights and duties to maintain Zuccotti Park, or to the rights to public access of others who might wish to use the space safely,” Stallman wrote.
At a morning news conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the evacuation was conducted in the middle of the night “to reduce the risk of confrontation in the park, and to minimise disruption to the surrounding neighbourhood”.
200 PROTESTERS ARRESTED
Hundreds of police officers surrounded the park in riot gear, holding plastic shields and batons which in some cases were used on protesters.
Police flooded the park with klieg lights and used bull horns to announce that everyone had to leave.
About 200 people were arrested, including some who chained themselves together. Others chanted or shouted angrily at police and vowed to march in protest.
Protesters in New York fought back the threat of a similar sweep weeks ago, but momentum against the camps appears to be growing as authorities across the US grow impatient with the self-proclaimed leaderless movement and its lack of a focused demand.
Bloomberg said the city knew about the court order on Tuesday but had not seen it and would go to court to fight it.
“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” to free speech, he said in a statement. “But when those two goals clash, the health and safety of the public and our first responders must be the priority.”
By mid morning, the park was power-washed clean by sanitation workers. Police in riot gear ringed the public space, waiting for orders to reopen it.
The city told protesters they could come back after the cleaning, but under new tougher rules, including no tents, sleeping bags or tarps, which would effectively put an end to the encampment if enforced.
Concerns about health and safety issues at Occupy Wall Street camps around the US have intensified, and protesters have been ordered to take down their shelters, adhere to curfews and relocate so that parks can be cleaned.
Police have made similar sweeps and arrests in recent days in Oakland, California and Portland, Oregon.
And London authorities announced on Tuesday they would resume legal action to clear a protest camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral.