NEW YORK - In the pre-dawn hours today helmeted and shield-carrying police tore down the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park here where protesters have hunkered down since September. As they dismantled the tent city which had become the epicenter of a worldwide movement against Wall Street greed, they tore down a medical center, a library and arrested at least 70 protesters.
Attorneys with the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild rushed into court and obtained a temporary restraining order against the city and Brookfield properties, owner of the park. The restraining order directs that demonstrators be allowed back into the park with their belongings. Mayor Bloomberg had announced, after the eviction, that protesters could return but not with their tents and tarps.
Yetta Kurland, one of the attorneys said, "This is a victory for everyone who believes in the First Amendment." Daniel Alterman, another attorney for the protesters, said, "This is a victory for all Americans, for the constitution and the 99 percent."
Bloomberg claimed that the encampment was a threat to health and safety. Polls show the majority of Americans, however, support the protest movement that has sprouted up at more than 1,000 locations all over the country.
The camp opened in Zuccotti Park on Sept. 17 to protest Wall Street greed and a financial system that favors one percent of the population at the expense of the broad 99 percent majority.
At 1 a.m. police began massing around Zuccotti Park, which has been re-named Liberty Park by the protesters. In addition to wearing riot gear, police were backed up by vehicles, including a bulldozer, which they used to evict demonstrators. They destroyed tents, tarps, medical equipment, and even the books in the library tent. Among the 70 arrested were New York City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez and Democratic District Leader Paul Newell.
Hundreds of protesters, after the eviction, marched and then gathered in Foley Square, near City Hall.
"It really hurts to see that the city is using the police to stop us from giving voice to the majority of Americans," said Peter Wechsler, one of the protesters in Foley Square this morning.
James Wendel, 34, another protester, said he was only "temporarily" relocating to Foley Square. He predicted that the Occupy Wall Street movement would continue to grow even stronger, "I wouldn't be surprised if our numbers quadruple by later today," he said.
Ester Lee, a 22 year-old unemployed college graduate from Warwick, N.Y. remained with crowds of protesters across the street from Zucotti Park after the eviction. She had been bringing pillows and blankets to the park from the Orange County home she shares with her parents, both of whom, she said, support the protests.
"Of course this is not the end of the protests," she said. "We will grow. They can destroy our books, trash our tents and remove our belongings, but they can't stop the 99 percent from demanding economic justice."
Lee said she knew many people in and around her home town who have lost their homes to the banks. "Millions are being evicted from their own houses," she said. "It won't be long before we start occupying the homes that have been unjustly taken away from people. There's a limit to how much evicting the authorities can do."
An Occupy Wall Street protester yells out at police after being ordered to leave Zuccotti Park early Tuesday, Nov. 15. At about 1 a.m., police handed out notices from the park's owner, Brookfield Office Properties, and the city saying that the park had to be cleared because it had become unsanitary and hazardous. Protesters were told they could return, but without sleeping bags, tarps or tents. (Mary Altaffer/AP)