Occupy Wall Street Evicted

OWS entrance

[ Photo: The Liberty Plaza encampment a few days ago by boykenan ]

By the time I got the call, it was too late. The city had shut down most means of ingress from Brooklyn (or anyplace else) to lower Manhattan, including the Brooklyn Bridge and the 2, 3, 4, 5, and E trains. Police had formed a wide perimeter around the park, and supporters could not get within a block of it in any direction. Doormen were told to lock residents into their own buildings. Reporters were penned off in an apparent attempted media blackout:

A CBS News helicopter was ordered out of the sky by the police, who said they needed the airspace, according to Anthony DeRosa of Reuters.

The network had no better luck on the ground:

CBS News correspondent Manuel Gallegus reports that he and other credentialed media are being kept blocks away from the park, but he could see a bulldozer heading for the camp under police escort.

A number of observers corroborate accounts of an arrested New York Times reporter (although this is currently not mentioned in the Times’ article). Blocked out from obtaining their own coverage, NYTimes.com began serving the protesters’ livestream. Mother Jones’ intrepid Josh Harkinson, who managed to make his way past the barricades and into the park, was physically dragged away while live-tweeting the pepper-spraying (or fire-extinguishing?) of supporters guarding the kitchen, and was violently shoved out of range while attempting to photograph a protester carried out of the park on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance.

Police set up “a battery of Klieg lights,” shining them into the park and announcing through (surely prohibited?) megaphones that the park would be “cleared and restored.” They moved in with pepper spray and sound cannons, wildly swinging batons and wrestling peaceful protesters to the ground as occupiers chanted their request for officers to “disobey your orders.” Tents were crushed and tossed into metal bins, along with tables, chairs, signs, artwork, food, documents, over 5,000 books from the People’s Library (a handful of which were once mine), and countless other supplies. Protesters attempting to leave with their belongings were reportedly stopped, and their posessions confiscated. Swarms of protesters surrounded and temporarily blocked the dump trucks laden with the encampment’s remains from leaving the park, but were eventually circumvented.

Jumaane D. Williams, a City Council member representing Brooklyn’s 45th district, arrived at the police perimeter decrying the NYPD’s “#brazen violation of the #FirstAmendment” behind the “shield of night,” and announced that one of his NYCC colleagues, Ydanis Rodriguez, had been injured and arrested by the police:

I can report that @ydanis, a #NYC Council Member, has been #arrested at #OccupyWallStreet & is bleeding from the head thanks to the #NYPD.

By 4 A.M., the once thriving encampment had been completely destroyed and cleared away. Trees were cut down** and all the protesters’ belongings were carted off in dump trucks:

The Baldwins found #OWS much safer than the homeless shelter. They’d joined a working group that hands out blankets to other occupiers.

Now all the blankets are in a trash bin. As is all of their possessions. They have no IDs, nothing except the clothes they are wearing

Regardless of our differing politics or our personal impressions of the Occupy movement and its methods, we should have much to agree on this morning. The city and its police force have carefully orchestrated and presided over a massive and brash violation of the First Amendment, and exercised terrifyingly excessive paramilitary force against a few hundred peaceable campers. Which looks more like an occupation to you? Their tactics should be universally abhorred.

The Occupation plans to reconstitute itself. They are presently regrouping for a General Assembly in Foley Square, where they expect to be joined by unions and supporters:

Many people here have been beaten and arrested, released. We need ur help 2 feed them! U know what to do! 212-766-3200

But whether or not it sets up more tents, the movement has raised indelible questions about the distribution of wealth and power that can not be simply “cleared” away so that an untenable status quo may be “restored.” As an unsigned article on the Occupy Wall Street website prophetically proclaimed a few days ago*, “you can’t evict an idea whose time has come.”

UPDATE (7:50 AM): The NLG has won a court order against the city pending a State Supreme Court hearing later this morning:

At around 6 AM on November 15, 2011, attorneys associated with the New York City Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild working as the Liberty Park Legal Working Group obtained a temporary restraining order against the City of New York, various City agencies, and Brookfield properties directing that occupiers be allowed back on the premises with their belongings.

UPDATE (10:37 AM): Mayor Bloomberg, however, is ignoring the court order, and police continue to block access to the park.

UPDATE (3:25 PM): The fearless Josh Harkinson‘s Twitter stream went quiet for a while. I worried he was among the several journalists arrested in the ongoing unrest this afternoon, but it turns out he was collecting his solitary experience behind police lines for Mother Jones:

As the two men talked, a sweaty-faced man wearing a neon vest over a business suit walked up and started tearing protest signs off the wall.”I couldn’t wait,” he said. “Destroying things never felt so good.”

Needless to say, it’s a must-read.

UPDATE (4:04 PM): The mayor’s office claims that protesters’ property is waiting for them in storage on 57th street. What condition the tents and clothes and personal effects may be in remains to be seen, but photographic evidence was included to reassure “the people” that their hostage library collection has not been destroyed. Regardless of the imminent court ruling, writers, readers and progressive retailers plan to restock and rebuild the library tonight.

UPDATE (5:05 PM): Alas, the court has sided with the city:

the movants have not demonstrated that they have a first amendment right to remain in zucotti park

FINAL UPDATE: Despite the Twitter outcry, it does not appear that any of Zuccotti’s trees have been felled.

And despite their tweeted professions and carefully cropped photographs, the city did not “safely store” the People’s Library collection. It is, in fact, largely missing or destroyed, including books signed by their authors, laptops, the pavilion donated by Patti Smith, even this decidedly Good Book:

The People’s Bible

A Bible from The People’s Library, after seizure by the NYPD.
Source: Occupy Wall Street Library

[ *It has since been updated slightly. ]
[ **See “Final Update,” above. ]


  1. Carolyn says:

    What horrid news to wake up to! I just hate the way NY police have become militarized in the wake of 9/11. Anyone who had seen OWS would know its threat was not physical. Digby has a great analysis of how the war on drugs and the Patriot Act have transformed police operations everywhere at http://www.alternet.org/story/153062/militarizing_the_police%3A_how_the_drug_war_and_9_11_led_to_battle-dressed_cops_cracking_down_on_peaceful_protests?page=entire
    I think it’s really dangerous.

    • Kenan says:

      Couldn’t agree more, Carolyn. The NYPD can now shoot planes out of the sky without having to call in any military force but itself. I understand, obviously, the concern that lead to this build-up of might, but the problem with having such capabilities is that they will get used. You get riot cops amassing against unarmed campers who dare to feed homeless people without a license.

      As my law school-entrenched domestic partner mused this morning upon seeing the news, “this is why the founders didn’t want a standing army.” Indeed.

  2. Dory says:

    I woke up to Bloomberg’s press conference on the radio, thanking the NYPD/FDNY/DSNY for their professionalism. Why did I believe him, even for a moment?

    • Kenan says:

      Don’t blame yourself; he’s very personable. He always speaks with the comforting trappings of a reasonable, benevolent patriarch. I suppose it’s what makes him so good at the parts of his job at which he’s good.

  3. Lee says:

    What happened to the claim of cell phone jamming? It appears to have been deleted without explanation.

    • Kenan says:

      Good eyes.

      I was updating this post continuously over the course of about an hour as I attempted to track down and corroborate the various rumors and tidbits running through my twitter feed (hence the addendum in the title). I saw a number of the complaints you reference and mentioned them initially, trying to make clear that it was hearsay. But I was unable to find any reliable confirmation. Seeing how many people were able to communicate effectively from the scene, I began to suspect that the networks were simply getting jammed up from a lot of use. I decided to remove the report of that rumor, so as not to be propagating misinformation.

  4. Heather Roberson says:

    Oh my god, horrifying. I am so sorry to read about all of this, but I thank you for pulling it together so that we can have a clear view of what actually happened. Im my experience, this kind of police brutality doesn’t quash movements as intended, but rather produces the opposite effect. More moderate types who have been sitting comfortably on the sidelines become incensed at the affront to the freedom of speech and the crowds grow larger as a result. I truly hope that that happens with OWS. Please keep up updated on anything we can do to help!

  5. Andrew Solomon says:

    Regardless of politics, the use of state violence on non-violent protesters is outrageous and unforgivable.

  6. Andrew Solomon says:

    Thank you, Kenan, for sifting through so much of the information and mis-information that’s out there.

  7. Bob Lamm says:

    I have detested King Michael (Bloomberg) ever since the Republican National Convention in New York in 2004. In reading of the events during the night and today, no one should be surprised at the worst of this.

  8. Andrew Solomon says:

    I was part of a disturbing conversation this afternoon in which a fellow Wharton student was adamant that today’s crackdown was in response to the risk of “viruses, like, a pandemic” spreading through unsanitary conditions at OWS.

  9. Bob Lamm says:

    I was in a rush before, but have now had time to read all this. Thanks so much, Kenan, for this great report!

  10. I was down at #OWS on Saturday last, photographing and talking to occupants. It was clean, orderly and lots of work was going on. A survey was being conducted by the small garden in the center. Robert J. Lifton and a host of people from his Wellfleet organization were addressing the crowd in solidarity. Tourists were mingling with occupants and getting an earful. It was clean. Neat and orderly if crowded. Everyone was being respectful of everyone else’s space. It was one of the most impressive gatherings I have ever seen. Any report to the contrary is a bald faced lie.

    I am appalled at the conduct of the NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg. He appears to be trying to capture the flag of champion of the oppressor from Mayor Giuliani. He just may have done it. I am so happy that I voted against him this last time.I wish he could run again so I could vote against him again. This fight is just beginning.

    • Kenan says:

      That’s a really amusing thought (although so often people I am excited to vote against are nonetheless swept into office).

      I decided to start writing about the Occupation when I first got there and realized how functional and industrious it was, and how thoroughly it defied my media-defined expectations. The Play’s the Thing aimed to present a more nuanced, more personal impression of Liberty Square than what I’d been seeing. In a sense, responsible journalism may be an unachievable ideal, but one nonetheless worth working toward, and I’m doing my best. Thanks for reading.

  11. Pingback: Occupy Wall Street, Wednesday eve after midnight. « An Irish Girl Abroad

  12. Alan says:

    Simply too embarrassing for NY to allow the OWS to go on indefinitely – too inconvenient to commercial activity, to residences in the area. And way too painful to have the message kept in front of the American people that fundamental economic inequality and crafty exploitation by the very wealthy few have been camouflaged for too long with the distracting political obsession in Washington with other issues. If OWS persists in various forms, in many locations, the new dialogue will not be shut off – hopefully.

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