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Judge rules against Occupy encampment

Occupy Wall Street Protestors celebrate as the are

Occupy Wall Street Protestors celebrate as the are allowed back into Zuccotti Park on Tuesday evening, November 15, 2011, in New York, New York. (Photo by Howard Schnapp) Credit: Photo by Howard Schnapp

Occupy Wall Street demonstrators returned to Zuccotti Park Tuesday without their tents, tarps and sleeping bags after a state judge supported the city's decision to bar another encampment.

The ruling capped a turbulent day that started with a pre-dawn police raid to clear the park and ended with the protesters declaring a moral victory.

They had spent the day marching around lower Manhattan under heavy police escort only to re-enter the spruced-up park Tuesday night one by one.

But this time, there were barricades that restricted them to two entrances, and officers checking bags for camping contraband.

By 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, police officers and private security officers outnumbered the 50 or so demonstrators inside the park.

Several of the protesters laid down and tried to get some sleep.  If they used a blanket to shield them from a light drizzle or propped up a pillow to protect them from the hard park surface, authorities would quickly confiscate the items.

In one section of the park, a competition between spoken word artists was playing out. Several people had begun the task of restarting the park library that was dismantled early Tuesday morning. A young man collected and stacked the books and said the library is in need of large ziplock bags to protect the books from the elements.

The mood may have been downcast and tense for most of Tuesday but not every demonstrator saw the clearing of the now-iconic park as a bad thing.

Rick DeVoe, 54, of Massachussetts, who has lived at the park since early October,  said the message demonstrators are trying to convey goes far beyond concerns about where they will spend the night.

"This isn't about sleeping. It's about awakening," said DeVoe, who managed to bed down for an hour on a park bench. "It's even better that we can provide a forum twenty four seven."

Late Tuesday, just after 11 p.m., some 200 protesters marched down Broadway -- with about 30 police officers close behind on foot and on motorcycles -- toward One Centre Street, the Manhattan municipal building, to show support for women arrested Tuesday. They chanted "hey hey ho ho, police abuse has got to go" and later "Shame, shame!" on the front steps, then headed to NYPD headquarters at One Police Plaza. Some protesters had expressed concern because, they said, women arrested by police had not being allowed to use the bathroom without male officers accompanying them.

Earlier, another judge had issued a temporary restraining order allowing the demonstrators to return to the park with their gear. But that expired as a new judge took up the case. Then Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman decided in the city's favor.

The protesters, Stallman said, hadn't shown "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."

Lawyers for the protesters were expected to appeal.

Returning to the park buoyed some and frustrated others. "There is no reason why the Bloomberg administration cannot embrace a more expansive understanding of freedom of speech and allow the protesters and their tents back into Zuccotti Park in a way that is consistent with public safety and health," said New York Civil Liberties Union president Donna Lieberman, whose group is monitoring the situation.

Inside the park, some exulted. Standing on a bench and chanting "Never scared!" Earl Morris said protesters had won a victory. "It feels awesome," said Morris, 22, of Manhattan. "It shows they can't break us even though they kept us out."

"This movement wasn't just Zuccotti Park," said Brittany Robinson, 21. "This space is not what made us."

Though the mood was festive, some, such as David Perez, 31, of Brooklyn, said that being allowed back into what they consider a public park was nothing to celebrate. "It doesn't feel like major victory to get back something that shouldn't have been taken away."

By mid-evening, about a thousand people were at the park, with some minor skirmishes with police, and it was unclear how many would stay overnight. Dinner was served and horns and drums began playing.

Flyers circulated saying to mark the two-month anniversary of the protest, demonstrators hope to shut down Wall Street Thursday by holding a "day of action." The protesters planned to march to Wall Street and then spread out across the city's subway system. They said they would reconvene later Thursday for a march across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Tuesday's fast-moving developments began when several hundred city cops -- by some estimates 1,000 -- enveloped Zuccotti Park just before 1 a.m.

Under the watchful eye of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly who was nearby, NYPD emergency service units signaled the start by driving up in vehicles, lighting up the park where about 200 protesters had bedded down for the night. Reporters had seen police massing several blocks away earlier near the South Street Seaport.

Using recorded and live messages, cops in riot gear led by the highest ranking uniformed members of the department, Chief Joseph Esposito, ordered the protesters to vacate the park so that the owners, Brookfield Properties, could clean it.

The police sweep triggered a frenzy of twitter traffic and Internet postings about the NYPD action.

Many protesters packed up their gear, but others resisted and cops said they arrested about 220 in the course of the day, mostly for criminal trespass, said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne. Protest organizers said 59 were being held overnight.

The park, which has been occupied since the protest started Sept. 17, was cleared by around 4:30 a.m. after Sanitation Department trucks removed remaining tents and property. Crews with power washers, then took over.

Groups of evicted protesters split up, some going to a park at Canal Street and Sixth Avenue, where 20 demonstrators and several journalists were later arrested. Others trooped to the Supreme Court building for the court hearing.

At a City Hall news conference Tuesday morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the stealth police action.

"Unfortunately, the park was becoming a place where people came not to protest, but rather to break laws, and in some cases to harm others," said Bloomberg, alluding to cases of assault, sexual assault and other crimes.

"There have been reports of businesses being threatened and complaints about noise and unsanitary conditions that have seriously impacted the quality of life for residents and businesses in this now-thriving neighborhood."

Bloomberg said it was his decision, after being asked to take action by Brookfield Properties, to have the police move in. Some in city government supported his action but others criticized the move and said police had stymied reporters, seven of whom the NYCLU said were arrested, from monitoring the raid.

"The only way to do this was stealth and by not announcing what was to happen," said City Council Public Safety Committee chair Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria). "I think the mayor did what was needed to be done."

City Public Advocate Bill DiBlasio countered: "Mayor Bloomberg made a needlessly provocative and legally questionable decision to clear Zuccotti Park in the dead of night . . . That some media and observers were prevented from monitoring the action is deeply troubling."

Bloomberg acknowledged that the occupation posed a major First Amendment balancing act for his administration. But he said the First Amendment "does not give anyone the right to sleep in a park or otherwise take it over to the exclusion of others."

"He is really walking the tight rope, leaning to one side or the other," said Doug Muzzio, professor of politics at Baruch College, of Bloomberg. "He tries to be a tough competent mayor and free speech advocate."

Prof. Mitchell Moss, professor of urban policy and planning at New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, said most New Yorkers favor free speech but don't want their lives disrupted.

"The Occupy Wall Street movement has run its course, it had run out of steam," said Moss. "Its time for them to go home and get a job."

In recent days, businesses and residents in the area pressured city officials to take action against the protesters. Concerns have also been raised about female protesters' safety after a kitchen worker at Zuccotti Park was charged with sexual assault.

While the NYPD provided the boots on the ground for Bloomberg, it is basically the mayor driving events and the situation will likely remain problematic for the city, said Prof. Eugene O'Donnell, an expert in police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

"The mayor himself is conflicted about what should be happening," said O'Donnell, "which for sure translates [into] how the police should handle it."

But protester Gavin Jackson, 32, of Brooklyn, called the judge's ruling a "hiccup" that would not deter the movement. "One way or another, whether it's Zuccotti Park or not, this movement is bigger than one location."

With Maria Alvarez, Matthew Chayes, Gary Dymski, Keith Herbert, Igor Kossov, William Murphy, Kery Murakami and Emily Ngo

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