Crackdown on OWS: Zuccotti Park Raided Under Media Blackout, Pepper Spray and Batons Used, Tents Cleared Out

"We're being evicted!" the text message went out to Occupy Wall Street supporters around 1 am.

"The park has been cleared," the fourth text message read a few hours later, as bedragged, pepper-sprayed protesters, having lost their home in the park, reconvened for a GA in Foley Square and vowed to keep the occupation going. Over 200 had been arrested, including city council member Ydanis Rodriguez. Blocks away, Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a press conference at which he declared that police would be now able to search all people entering the park. Read his press release, which contains the memorable phrase "no right is absolute," here.

Later in the morning, the crowd had moved from Foley to a post-raid gathering at Canal and 6th Street. At 9am and onwards, supporters tried to regroup and rally: some marched back to Zuccotti, others took over a small lot owned by Trinity Church. AlterNet's Tana Ganeva tweeted from Trinity at noon that religious leaders and occupiers were being arrested at the church.

Meanwhile, the National Lawyer's Guild had obtained a temporary restraining order "directing that occupiers be allowed back on the premises with their belongings." This was meant to hold for several hours until a new hearing at 11:30.

However, after some members of the public re-entered the park, they were asked to leave again. At about 11 a.m, police were reportedly acting in contempt of the order, holding the park and preventing the mandated re-entry of the reconvened protesters.

Alternet's Sarah Jaffe was tweeting from the courtroom as the hearing over the park was about to begin

Legal observer: "We've been preparing for this for weeks. We have the best 1st amendment lawyers in the city."

The decision, which allowed protesters back into the park but crucially without their tents and gear, was handed down at 3pm. Protesters finally re-entered the park, with a police bag-search in place, in the evening to hold a boisterous general assembly and begin the process of planning their moves for tomorrow and all the days after.

Twitter pictures taken after sunrise showed Zuccotti Park was bare and stripped--ugly and undamaged, as it was before, once cleaning crews moved through. Before that, however, police had heaped protesters' belongings together.

According to Twitter and the Occupy texts as well as press releases from the movement and the Mayor, the early morning raid cleared the protests' two-month-long "model society" of its infrastructure, including the women's safe space tent, the medical tent, and thousands of books from the "People's Library" -- which were seen in the back of a dumpster.

Cops reportedly told people these confiscated items would be available at the Department of Sanitation but protesters thought they had been disposed of completely.

Almost all of downtown Manhattan was blocked off in various ways, and protesters were beaten for being both on the sidewalk and the street.

Watch this amateur video of the beatings:

Reports on Twitter, the OWS press team, and internal OWS listservs suggested that downtown subways and the Brooklyn Bridge were shut down, airspace was blocked off, and a barricade was erected to prevent supporters who were alerted by text--and came to help--from entering.

Several bystanders who arrived to help were pepper-sprayed or beaten. Read this dispatch from Anna Lekas Miller for one such story: "The police came towards us. I was live tweeting when I realized there was a funny smell and something in my eyes that was making them burn... I was shoved against a wall by a cop with a riot shield telling me to, 'Keep it moving.' ...Their batons were out. It was violence."

Below are a series of tweets from AlterNet's Kristen Gwynne, who also arrived on the scene after 1 am:

  • Riot police won't anybody in #ows. Looking for alternate route in..ahh hang in there guys
  • Cops everywhere. At least 1 pepper sprayed cops pushing us
  • Holy shit this us crazy pepper spray, pushing us, beating and arresting peaceful protestors#ows
  • They're literally pushing us down cortlandt. Violent cops #ows 

These brutal tactics were used on supporters who were in the park and others who were trying to get in to protect the space, as well as some members of the press. LRADs (sound cannons) were seen and some say used, but as of yet but there have been no confirmed reports of them being used.

Perhaps worst of all, there was a media blackout that specifically disallowed press from entering while the space was cleared. Many newspeople on Twitter have expressed anger and frustration about being prevented from reporting on the scene; some were apparently told by the NYPD, "You're not press tonight."

From Poynter, there are more details on the suppression of the press: 

Journalists said they were shut out and roughed up as the New York Police Department cleared Zuccotti Park of Occupy Wall Street protesters in the early morning hours Tuesday. “I’m w/ a NY Post reporter who says he was roughed up by riot police as Zuccotti was cleared,” tweeted Brian Stelter of The New York Times. “He thinks violence was ‘completely deliberate.’ “ Julie Walker, a freelancer for NPR, and Jared Malsin were reportedly arrestedJosh Harkinson, a staff writer for Mother Jones, made it into the park and observed the police arresting protesters (which he described in tweets later), but said hewas hauled out when he told a police officer he was working for Mother Jones. ”I decided it would be better to stay out of jail and keep reporting on what’s going on tonight, so I let him haul me out, arguing with him,” he tweeted

The "blackout" went even further: Gothamist gives us an explanation of how cops and local doormen refused to allow photography:

After approaching the west side of the park at Church and Cortland at around 2 a.m., a police officer standing behind a barricade is asked why members of the press aren't permitted to view what's happening under the massive flood lights in Zuccotti Park. "Stay behind the barricade." Would two employees watching the door at One Liberty Plaza let us in to take photos of the park from behind glass? "We got in trouble for that already," one replied. "We let the press in. The cops yelled at us. Now get out of here, walk south."

At In These Times, Alison Kilkenny had this report from Twitter: "Some protesters chained themselves to trees in Liberty, and some early reports indicate the NYPD cut down the trees in order to remove the demonstrators."

Around 7 am, the following terms were trending on Twitter in New York City:

Here is a timeline of the raid from OWS's Oregon Twitter feed.Note that some reports in this timeline are unconfirmed:

Timeline of Violent NYPD Raid on Occupy Wall Street

3:36 a.m. Kitchen tent reported teargassed. Police moving in with zip cuffs.
3:33 a.m. Bulldozers moving in
3:16 a.m. Occupiers linking arms around riot police
3:15 a.m. NYPD destroying personal items. Occupiers prevented from leaving with their possessions.
3:13 a.m. NYPD deploying sound cannon
3:08 a.m. heard on livestream: "they're bringing in the hoses."
3:05 a.m. NYPD cutting down trees in Liberty Square
2:55 a.m. NYC council-member Ydanis Rodríguez arrested and bleeding from head.
2:44 a.m. Defiant occupiers barricaded Liberty Square kitchen
2:44 a.m. NYPD destroys OWS Library. 5,000 donated books in dumpster.
2:42 a.m. Brooklyn Bridge confirmed closed
2:38 a.m. 400-500 marching north to Foley Square
2:32 a.m. All subways but R shut down
2:29 a.m. Press helicopters evicted from airspace. NYTimes reporter arrested.
2:22 a.m. Frontpage coverage from New York Times
2:15 a.m. Occupiers who have been dispersed are regrouping at Foley Square
2:10 a.m. Press barred from entering Liberty Square
2:07 a.m. Pepper spray deployed -- reports of at least one reporter sprayed
2:03 a.m. Massive Police Presence at Canal and Broadway
1:43 a.m. Helicopters overhead.
1:38 a.m. Unconfirmed reports of snipers on rooftops.
1:34 a.m. CBS News Helicopter Livestream
1:27 a.m. Unconfirmed reports that police are planning to sweep everyone.
1:20 a.m. Subway stops are closed.
1:20 a.m. Brooklyn bridge is closed.
1:20 a.m. Occupiers chanting "This is what a police state looks like."
1:20 a.m. Police are in riot gear.
1:20 a.m. Police are bringing in bulldozers.

Naturally, it was a dramatic and even traumatic experience for many who called the park their home, including some otherwise homeless people who had been making a go of it at the encampment.

One protester from the People's Library blogged his experience on this "emotional night":

Campers across the park quickly climbed out of their tents screaming, “WAKE UP THE POLICE ARE HERE!” I ran into the library and let the handful of people sleeping in there know what was happening, then unlocked and pulled the OWS POETRY ANTHOLOGY from the shelves and strapped them to my body, then climbed atop a table in the park and read poems from the anthology. Immediately, the people of Liberty Plaza launched into action, a group of about a hundred protesters took to the kitchen and U-Locked/tied themselves down. After reading the third poem, the cops began to enter the park and I realized that I would most likely lose all of my possessions so I quickly grabbed a bag of my personal stuff, ran into the library and dumped a bunch of boxes of books onto the floor to make the cleaning up more difficult for the cops then ran my personal stuff and a few amazing books to a friends house around the corner. I naively thought I could get my stuff to my friends house and then re-enter the park but could only get to the corner of Liberty and Broadway after prepping myself for a long night. 

At Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte had these thoughts to offer on the confiscation of the library and what it symbolizes:

Media Bistro is reporting that the NYPD destroyed over 5,000 books that have been amassed in the OWS library over the past two months. The young protesters who were volunteering as librarians tweeted the ordeal of watching what has come to be, historically speaking, the symbol of authoritarian governments oppressing its citizens. 
"OWSLibrary The People's Library NYPD destroying american cultural history, they're destroying the documents, the books, the artwork of an event in our nation's history.

Right now, the NYPD are throwing over 5,000 books from our library into a dumpster. Will they burn them?

Protesters locked arms and tried to keep the dumpsters full of books and tents from leaving, but obviously to no avail. Personally, I donated about a dozen books to OWS, mostly about feminism in response to requests for more feminist discourse and history. Some of them weren't exactly books you can just saunter into a local library branch or Barnes & Noble to find, either, such as the radical feminism reader. So this image of the books being tossed into the trash is just adding to the emotional distress of this situation. 

So don't believe the lies. If this was just about a clean park, there would have been no need to go over the fucking top in the assaults on speech and press that included threatening journalists (and arresting one), squelching witnesses, and destroying over 5,000 books that were provided, free of charge, by supporters who want to assist protesters' desire to educate themselves and, frankly, give them something to do during their downtime.

AlterNet / By Sarah Seltzer

Posted at November 15, 2011, 12:47am

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