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Occupy Wall Street's Occupation of Wall Street Facing Eviction Despite Legal Protections

Tuesday, 17 April 2012 13:28 By Sarah Jaffe, AlterNet | Report
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Occupy Wall Street(Photo: David Shankbone / Flickr)When Occupy Wall Street protesters decided to take up sleeping on the sidewalks of Wall Street, they did so with the protection--they thought--of the law. Specifically, a 2000 court decision, Metropolitan Council Inc. v. City of New York, that ruled that sleeping on City sidewalks was a Constitutionally-protected form of protest. 

But it appears that the NYPD has had enough of the Constitution--and so once again, Occupiers face eviction. According to an email sent earlier today, the police woke the sleeping Occupiers at 6am and told them they were no longer welcome. The protesters took refuge on the steps of Federal Hall, but that closes at 5 and so they found themselves facing off with the police. 

Nick Pinto of the Village Voice tweeted: 

On the steps of Federal Hall, #ows protesters getting downright Tea Partyish in their group reading of Founding Father quotes.

As the Occupiers waited for the inevitable clash with police, Molly Knefel tweeted that legal observers say that the NYPD has no intention of allowing them to sleep on the sidewalk anymore. 

When I arrived on Wall Street at about 7:30, the Federal Hall steps were occupied and the police were milling around quietly. Barricades lined the space where the protesters had been sleeping earlier in the week

A National Lawyers Guild observer told me that the police were saying that the Federal building's steps were not their jurisdiction but that they would be making arrests--"I told them those statements were contradictory," she said, "but he had no explanation." 

As it got darker, the NYPD lined up in the middle of Wall Street facing the steps, and the Occupiers began a discussion, through the People's Mic, of possible options if they were chased off the steps. Some argued in favor of facing arrest on federal property, saying it could be a new dimension to their narrative, while others suggested breaking into smaller groups to attempt sleeping on Wall Street (one man later did so himself). 

The discussion of what to do faded as a group of what turned out to be Park Police--the ones with jurisdiction at the federal building--arrived, with plastic cuffs dangling from their belts, and eventually climbed the hall steps to position themselves behind the protesters. As they waited for what seemed to be an inevitable clearing of the steps, the protesters began to sing, layering chants over and under one another. Here's a sample of what it sounded like: 

Occupy Wall Street on Federal Hall Steps by Sarah Jaffe

Not everyone appreciated the sing-along, though--some irate folks who claimed to be residents took up an occupation of their own across the steps--hilariously, as Molly Knefel noted, on a literal red carpet. They shouted insults ("Get a Job" is a perennial favorite, but one blonde woman was making crying faces and calling them "babies" as well) and tension mounted. 

As we crossed the street to check in with a legal observer, a man who appeared to be one of the self-proclaimed residents of the neighborhood crossed the police line and launched himself at the protesters. The police broke it up, but then charged into the crowd, carrying off several of the occupiers. Reports were that there were six arrests at this time, though the resident was not one of them. Later we heard one of the occupiers talking to police, asking why the man who assaulted his friend hadn't been arrested. "Show me a victim," the officer said. "He's in the wagon! He's been arrested!" the occupier replied. 

The spirits of the occupiers remained high despite the tension--one couple took up dancing in the street next to the line of police. But as I left, the lines were still drawn, with several residents hovering on one side despite the relative calm, and lines of police in the street. As of this writing, that situation remains. 

You can read our tweets and see our photos from the evening on Storify here

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Sarah Jaffe

Sarah Jaffe is an independent journalist covering labor, social and economic justice, and politics for The Atlantic, The Guardian, In These Times, Truthout and many other publications. She is the cohost of Belabored, a labor podcast hosted by Dissent magazine, and a frequent guest on other TV and radio programs. She lives in Brooklyn with a rescue dog and too many books.


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