Dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters teamed up with local religious officials Thursday to plead with leaders of a downtown church to let them use an abandoned lot as their new campground.
The protesters have been eyeing the lot on Sixth Avenue and Canal Street owned by Trinity Wall Street since being evicted from their Zuccotti Park home last month. Some demonstrators have been arrested in the past few weeks for trespassing at the site.
“We need a space for assembly and a space for free speech,” protester Amin Husain, 36, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, told the Rev. Matt Heyd of Trinity. “We’re coming to you for sanctuary.”
Heyd said he sympathized with the demonstrators and what they stand for but said the church wouldn’t let them use the space.
”We completely agree that the bigger system is broken and needs to be fixed,” Heyd told a crowd of protesters outside the church Thursday afternoon. “We cannot do what you’re asking us at Sixth and Canal.”
The Rev. Michael Ellick of Judson Church, who gave Heyd a petition signed by 12,000 people asking for Trinity to give protesters access to the unused lot, said if the church really supported the protesters, they would help them find space somewhere.
“[Trinity’s] vestry reads like a listing of the 1%,” Ellick said. “Trinity is the largest, most wealthy church in the world outside of the Vatican.”
The protesters have planned a rally at the lot for Saturday in celebration of the movement’s three-month anniversary.
But church officials said if they entered the lot, they’d be arrested.
“If people go into the lot, they’ll be trespassing,” said Linda Hanick, a spokeswoman for Trinity Wall Street. “It’s private property.”
Hanick firmly added that the church would not offer any outdoor space to the protesters, though she did not offer a reason why. “We’re not saying yes to an open encampment on that lot,” she said.
Earlier in the day, more than a hundred protesters faced charges from an October demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Seventy-seven took plea deals that would result in dismissed charges if they stay out of trouble for six months, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, and charges were dropped against one person due to a paperwork error as well as a reporter who was covering the protest. More than 30 others pleaded not guilty and are fighting the charges.