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Published: Wednesday, 11/16/2011

N.Y. judge rules protestors can't camp in public park

BLADE NEWS SERVICES

NEW YORK -- Crackdowns against the Occupy Wall Street encampments across the country reached the epicenter of the movement Tuesday, when police in riot gear rousted protesters from a Manhattan park and a judge ruled that their free-speech rights do not extend to pitching a tent and setting up camp for months at a time.

Protesters who had been kicked out in a surprise early morning raid were allowed back 16 hours later but were banned from bringing the tents and sleeping bags that had turned a square-block park near Wall Street into an urban campground for two months.

New York Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman found the city was justified in enforcing a ban on sleeping in Zuccotti Park, saying the new rules still protected protesters' free-speech rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The judge ruled merely that the case lacked the urgency to approve or strike down the new park rules immediately. The underlying case will be heard later.

After the ruling, police lifted barricades at two points, letting people back in one by one. Several hundred protesters were in the park under a light drizzle, and the crowd thinned as the night wore on. The mood was largely free of tension.

Demonstrators have occupied the park since Sept. 17 to protest what they say is an unjust economic system that favors the wealthiest 1 percent at a time of persistently high unemployment. They also decry a political system that bailed out banks after reckless lending sparked the financial crisis.

By early Tuesday evening, some protesters were allowed back into the park two by two. But they could each take only a small bag.

Later, the protesters held a general assembly where they discussed topics including where and how to retrieve their belongings that had been swooped up in the raid and options for going forward, including appealing the judge's decision.

Demonstrators pledged to carry on with their message protesting corporate greed and economic inequality, either in Zuccotti or a yet-to-be chosen site.

Pete Dutro, head of the group's finances, said the loss of the movement's original encampment will open a dialogue with other cities.

"We all knew this was coming," Mr. 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."

Mayor Michel Bloomberg ordered the eviction, saying the square-block Zuccotti Park had become a sanitation hazard and a fire trap.

The decision angered members of a movement that has spread throughout the nation and the world, and it came two days before demonstrators planned to shut down Wall Street outside the New York Stock Exchange.

"He's a billionaire and he's defending his class. He is the 1 percent," said Naomi Brussel, 69, a retired social worker from Brooklyn, in reference to Mr. Bloomberg.

Hundreds of police stormed the camp around 1 a.m. and dismantled tents, tarpaulins, outdoor furniture, mattresses, and signs, arresting 147 people, including about a dozen who had chained themselves to each other and to trees.

The New York Civil Liberties Union said it was "deeply concerned" about the police department's "heavy-handed tactics" and said seven journalists covering the events were arrested.

City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who has been supportive of the Occupy movement, was among those arrested outside of the park on charges of resisting arrest.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Mr. Rodriguez was trying to get through police lines to reach the protesters. He was released Tuesday night with scrapes on his left temple and right forehead. He said an officer assaulted him near the park as he went to observe police action. Police had no immediate comment.

After the park was cleared, sanitation workers blasted the square with water cannons, erasing odors of urine and human waste.

"His [Bloomberg's] response makes him seem completely out of touch to me, and he comes off as a benevolent dictator," said protester Douglas Paulson, 31, of the New York City borough of Queens.

The New York raid was the third in three days for a major U.S. city. Police broke up camps Sunday in Portland, Ore., and Monday in Oakland. The timing did not appear to be coincidence. On Tuesday, authorities acknowledged that police departments nationwide consulted with each other about nonviolent ways to clear encampments. Officers in as many as 40 cities participated in the conference calls.

In London, authorities said they were resuming legal action to try to shift anti-capitalism protesters who have set up camp at St Paul's Cathedral. Toronto officials also told protesters to break camp and leave on Tuesday. In Los Angeles, city officials have opened talks with some members of the Occupy L.A. group to work out a time line for moving about 500 tents surrounding City Hall.



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