Update (4:54pm New York time): The state supreme court declined to extend the earlier court order, judging that protesters’ first amendment rights weren’t being undermined by the city’s enforcement of its park and health and safety rules. Full judgement here.
At 1am New York time, City police cleared Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street protestors have camped for the last two months. Around 200 people were arrested, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
At around 8am New York time, the state supreme court issued the protesters with a temporary reprieve. Justice Lucy Billings issued the following court order allowing protesters to return pending a further hearing on Tuesday at 11:30am. Here’s the court order (click through to read):
The numerous strike-outs in the order suggest the speed at which events are moving.
Shortly after the order was issued, the Mayor released a statement explaining the eviction and its timing (emphasis ours):
At one o’clock this morning, the New York City Police Department and the owners of Zuccotti Park notified protestors in the park that they had to immediately remove tents, sleeping bags and other belongings, and must follow the park rules if they wished to continue to use it to protest. Many protestors peacefully complied and left.
‘At Brookfield’s (park owners Brookfield Properties) request, members of the NYPD and Sanitation Department assisted in removing any remaining tents and sleeping bags. This action was taken at this time of day to reduce the risk of confrontation in the park, and to minimize disruption to the surrounding neighborhood.
‘Protestors were asked to temporarily leave the park while this occurred, and have been told that they will be free to return to the park once Brookfield finishes cleaning it later morning. Protestors – and the general public – are welcome there to exercise their First Amendment rights, and otherwise enjoy the park, but will not be allowed to use tents, sleeping bags, or tarps and, going forward, must follow all park rules.
The opening three paragraphs suggest that neither the Mayor nor the private company that runs the park is trying to ban protests per se. But they are trying to put an end to the 24/7 camp operation. This is proving little comfort to those evicted.
New Yorkers were this morning asking “why now?” and “why this way?”. The Mayor argues that the camp has become a health and safety hazard, and the 1am operation minimised disruption, at least to the surrounding areas. As ever, there’s no one protester response but some on twitter have contested the early morning wake-up call and, for example, the alleged removal of personal possessions such as the OWS library. No doubt some will argue that this will only strengthen the movement — we’ll have to wait and see.
(And some New Yorkers are just asking why they Mayor didn’t just wait until the weather got really cold.)
The situation is moving quickly. At pixel time, the FT’s Shannon Bond sent us this update from Duarte Square, where some of the protestors have regrouped and formed a “General Assembly”:
General Assembly started with an announcement that the National Lawyers Guild had filed temporary restraining order against the city, the police department, the fire department and Brookfield Properties. “The city cannot enforce these bullshit rules”, the speaker said.
“As of now you have the right to go back to the park, but police may still be a problem.”
The announcements had to be repeated three times for the whole crowd, which appeared to number about 500, to hear.
Organizers said the court appearance was scheduled for 11:30 am. “Feel free to pack the courtroom.”
The New York Times City Room blog has rolling updates from City Hall and from inside the crowds of protestors.