AMY GOODMAN: Nearly two months into Occupy Wall Street, New York City police have carried out a major crackdown on the protesters’ Lower Manhattan encampment, dismantling tents, confiscating belongings, arresting more than 70 people. At around 1:00 in the morning local time, police officers in riot gear encircled Zuccotti Park, renamed by the protesters Liberty Square, ordering them to leave. Although most demonstrators complied, a group of around 200 or 300 people refused, locking their arms together in the middle of the park. They were eventually detained after a tense standoff that saw police use pepper spray and hit protesters with batons.
Police meanwhile took to dismantling the protesters’ encampment, tearing down tents, tossing the sea of belongings, clothing and equipment into large dump trucks. Hundreds of sanitation workers participated in the trashing of the private belongings. More people were arrested in the surrounding streets as police sought to clear demonstrators as far as possible from Zuccotti square.
In a statement, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was acting to protect public safety, saying, quote, "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." Bloomberg added, protesters will be allowed to return to Zuccotti Park, but without their camping gear.
Hundreds of Occupy Wall Street supporters are now gathering in nearby Foley Square to plan the movement’s next step. Clergy and labor are expected to join them.
As we went to air just now, a judge issued a restraining order prohibiting New York City and police from evicting the protesters from the Occupy Wall Street encampment.
We turn right now to Danny Alterman, longtime civil rights attorney, helped file the injunction to prevent the city from evicting the protesters. He’s part of Liberty Park Legal Working Group. He’s joining us by Democracy Now! video stream.
Danny Alterman, can you explain what the judge just ruled and how you reached her so early in the morning?
DANIEL ALTERMAN: About 2:00, we heard from our colleagues that the police were doing what you said that they were doing in Liberty Square and evicting the protesters. We were—we then had a massive phone call with all the lawyers and legal support groups that were supporting, legally, the protesters. We put together a set of papers on the fly, working nonstop throughout the night, and around 3:00 in the morning contacted Judge Lucy Billings of the New York State Supreme Court, who agreed to meet us between 5:00 at 6:00 a.m. to review our request for a temporary restraining order, restraining the police from evicting the protesters at Liberty Park, exclusive of lawful arrests for criminal offenses, and, most importantly, enforcing the rules published after the occupation began almost two months ago—or otherwise preventing protesters from re-entering Liberty Park with tents and other property utilized therein. So between 2:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., when Judge Billings signed the order, a temporary restraining order was granted by the court.
We’re having a court hearing today at 11:30 at 71 Thomas Street, in front of Judge Billings, we think. And we believe that the health and safety issues articulated by Mayor Bloomberg are pretextural. They had months and months to deal with this stuff. They are doing this, I think, because of the self-proclaimed and very vocal determination of the people that represent 99 percent of this country and who are scheduling a big Wall Street demonstration for Thursday.
AMY GOODMAN: Danny Alterman, we just came in from the protests through the night, covering them, and one of the things that I got from one of the protesters inside was the notice of requirement to remove property from Zuccotti Park. It ends by saying, "If you fail to immediately remove your property, we will do so and transport it to the Department of Sanitation parking garage at 650 West 57th Street, where you’ll be able to recover it as of noon today with proper identification." What is so confusing about this is we were there watching as the sanitation workers trashed almost every physical item in the park, dumping them into dump trucks. And when we asked them where they were taking the property that had been completely trashed and was put into garbage trucks, they said, "To the dump."
DANIEL ALTERMAN: That’s absolutely true, Amy. It seems—it seems like the Department of Sanitation, with Mayor Bloomberg and the Police Department’s help, are conducting an illegal eviction of the park protesters. They are not preserving property. There has been no due process. And they’re simply doing this on the fly without lawful process. And if you can imagine a family being evicted from their home by a city marshal without ever going to court or getting evicted—and that’s similarly what convinced, I believe, Judge Billings to issue the restraining order, putting the people back to where they were before this unprecedented and, in my view, unconstitutional violation occurred at 1:00 a.m.
AMY GOODMAN: Among the more than 70 people arrested was Ydanis Rodriguez, a New York City Council member. Can you tell us what it means? Although you consider this a big victory to get a temporary restraining order, the people have already been moved out.
DANIEL ALTERMAN: The people have been already moved out. We hope to get them back in. We hope to have, as Judge Billings has ruled, at least temporarily, with the property, including the tents that utilize the occupation. With regard to the council member, I saw a little of the clip of his arrest. He clearly was there advocating for his constituents, as well as other council members. And it seems that Mayor Bloomberg took upon this in the dead of night to surprise and evict the protesters, who had been there and were there peaceably. And as far as the health and safety issues that were generally alluded to by the Mayor, we don’t know of any. We believe that they’re pretextural. There was no notice. There was no attempt to do even what the Fire Department did with the generators. And as far as we’re concerned, this is like Alice in Wonderland, where the—where Alice—where the jury comes back guilty before the individuals have a chance to assert their innocence.
AMY GOODMAN: We also got word that City Council Member Jumaane Williams tweeted that Ydanis, the city council—fellow city council member, was—Ydanis Rodriguez, was hit by police, as well as arrested, as of 7:30 this morning, still in central booking.
DANIEL ALTERMAN: Yes, I met—
AMY GOODMAN: Danny Alterman?
DANIEL ALTERMAN: I met Mr. Williams around—I guess around 3:30, 4:00 in the morning, and he prepared and supported very courageously the illegal arrest of his colleague. And his affidavit was contained in the moving papers that convinced Judge Billings, at least temporarily, to grant us this release.
AMY GOODMAN: So where is this hearing for the permanent restraining order before Judge Billings today at 11:30?
DANIEL ALTERMAN: It’s at 71 Thomas Street, which is at the corner of West Broadway and Thomas, one block south of Worth Street. And the hearing has been scheduled for 11:30 a.m.
AMY GOODMAN: Danny Alterman, longtime civil rights attorney, helped file the injunction to prevent police from evicting protesters with Occupy Wall Street, part of the Liberty Park Legal Working Group. Again, Judge Billings, a local judge here in New York, has issued a temporary restraining order. We’ll see what happens and keep you updated at our website at democracynow.org. But when we come back from break, we’ll go out to the streets to bring you what happened through the night here in New York. Stay with us.