Days after Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised the Occupy Wall Street protesters could stay at Zuccotti Park, he ordered the NYPD to clear them out Friday so the park could be cleaned, setting up a potential early morning standoff between the activists and police.
The mayor also vowed police will begin enforcing rules — like barring them from lying down in the park and setting down belongings — that would effectively put an end to their four-week stay.
“People will have to remove all their belongings and leave the park,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told said at a news conference Thursday. “After it’s cleaned, they’ll be able to come back. But they won’t be able to bring back the gear. The sleeping bags, that sort of thing, will not be able to be brought back into the park.”
But trying to beat the city to it, hundreds of protesters furiously scrubbed down the park Thursday. A Facebook post, meanwhile, made it clear they wouldn’t go quietly when the cleaners were expected to arrive at 7 a.m.
“We'll awake and position ourselves with our brooms and mops in a human chain around the park, linked at the arms,” they wrote. “If NYPD attempts to enter, we'll peacefully/non-violently stand our ground and those who are willing will get arrested.”
One protester Thursday said they didn’t need help tidying up.
“We can clean it ourselves — it’s our mess,” said Tarah Caiside, 23, of Bermuda.
The protesters, their lawyers, several politicians and civil rights groups slammed the city’s decision.
“Under the guise of cleaning the park you are threatening fundamental constitutional rights,” the protesters’ lawyers wrote in a letter to Brookfield, the park’s owner, Bloomberg and Kelly.
Brookfield wasn’t convinced. “The manner in which Zuccotti Park has been used for the past several weeks has created unsanitary conditions,” it said in a statement.
Protester BC Craig, a Bard College professor from Park Slope, said the mayor’s decisions were “a thinly veiled effort to end or control [the protest].”
She added: “If the city insists on it, the people will form a blockade.”
Follow reporters Marc Beja on Twitter: @Marc_Beja