N.Y. Occupy Demonstrators Evicted, Fight Legal Battle

Police officers removed Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park in New York City early Tuesday morning. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the operation took place at night to "reduce the risk of confrontation." But clashes erupted and about 70 people were arrested.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. We've been tracking events this morning in New York City, where the Occupy protests began. Before dawn, hundreds of police in riot gear moved into a camp near Wall Street. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the operation to clear Zuccotti Park took place at night to, quote, reduce the risk of confrontation.

Still, clashes erupted, and about 70 people were arrested.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: (Shouting) Back up! Back up!

OCCUPY PROTESTERS: Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!

MONTAGNE: The scene we're hearing was recorded by protester John Knefel.

JOHN KNEFEL: I saw two women who were on the sidewalk get arrested very violently, in a very unprovoked way. A squad car just pulled up, arrested them. I was also hit on the leg with a baton, and then pepper-sprayed.

MONTAGNE: The protesters scattered, and then reassembled in a nearby square while workers moved into Zuccotti Park with pressure-washers, and shoveled away debris. NPR's Margot Adler is in Lower Manhattan, and joins us now to talk about this.

And Margot, tell us what you are seeing.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: Well, right now, I'm in a place called Duarte Square, which is about a 15-minute walk from Zuccotti Park. And after people were evicted from the park, they first went to Foley Square, near City Hall. Some of them actually went to where the mayor was giving his press conference - or at least, the building. And then they have marched to this square. And they've kind of - sort of set up a temporary headquarters here. They have their general assembly meeting with their mic checks, and they've got their medical people over there. But what's very interesting is that some people are actually going back to Zuccotti Park.

MONTAGNE: And - where they will find what? Is there still a cleanup going on there? That's, of course, the original protest site.

ADLER: Well, I was just there, and here's what it looks like: It looks like there's never been anyone there, ever. It was completely power-washed this morning. There are barricades up, all around it. And when I first got there, there was a tiny, little press conference of a couple of protesters with the press, inside. And then they closed it off for everybody, and have not let anybody in. But at 6:30 this morning, Judge Lucy Billings basically ruled the eviction was illegal. They said they could go back, and with tents.

Now, Bloomberg is not accepting this. He's going back into court at 11:30. So what some people are doing here - when I say they went back to Zuccotti Park - is, a number of people are going back to be there before 11:30, to ask the cops to let them in, because they say if the police don't let them in, then the police are in contempt of court - but maybe only until 11:30.

MONTAGNE: Well, so it does not seem like the protesters who were ousted, sort of over - from the middle of last night to early this morning, they don't see this as a defeat.

ADLER: No. As a matter of fact, there's a pretty upbeat attitude, actually, everywhere, which actually surprised me. I mean, I did talk to some people who were upset, because all their ID has been taken, and their clothes, and everything - although I think they got all the infrastructure out - the computers and stuff. And the books - apparently, 5,000 books were taken, and the librarians say they're sending a bill to the police department for not returning books.

But the mood, here's the mood: I talked to a guy who's one of the big, sort of experts in de-escalation security at this site. And he basically sort of said what everybody said - which is, the genie is out of the bottle. It doesn't matter if we have to camp, or we don't have to camp. We could be mobile. Basically, the discussion has been started; there's a movement that's started. And whatever happens, we might be in Zuccotti Park. We might be someone else - somewhere else. It really doesn't matter.

MONTAGNE: Well, though, back to the question of this going to court. Even though this judge has ruled that they have a right to be there, of course, cities - as you said, Mayor Bloomberg isn't necessarily accepting that. Is this increasingly likely to become a battle in the courts about whether they can live in these protest places?

ADLER: Absolutely, absolutely. I think even here, it's going to be a huge battle. And my guess would be - my guess, and this is completely speculation - is that this judge, who may not end up being the judge who's on the case - maybe she'll get ousted; there may be another judge; there may be a decision that will completely turn this early decision over - not sure, but that could happen. They are using health regulations, other kinds of regulations. I think here and elsewhere, there's going to be huge legal battles over this: First Amendment versus property rights, etc.

MONTAGNE: Speaking to us live from New York City is NPR's Margot Adler. Margot, thanks very much.

ADLER: You're welcome.

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