The fate of Zuccotti Park, which has for the last two months been the semi-permanent home of Occupy Wall Street, was decided late this afternoon by a New York judge: The Occupiers, who were evicted late last night by Mayor Michael Bloomberg's personal army the NYPD, may not set up tents or sleep lying down in the park.
The camp's fate appeared to be decided early this morning when attorneys for the Occupy movement called Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Lucy Billings and asked her to stop the eviction. Billings issued a restraining order that said the NYPD couldn't kick the Occupiers out of Zuccotti for exercising their First Amendment rights, but the New York Daily News reports that court administrators took the case away from Billings, who worked for the ACLU before joining the bench, this afternoon. (The story suggests that Billings' chumminess with Occupy attorneys got her booted from the case).
How the ruling will affect the Occupy movement is anybody's guess. Two obvious ones: Occupy Wall Street will go the way of Dylan Thomas's dear old dad, or it will live to fight another day. Dan Foster's 140-character take on the eviction is that Bloomberg just effectively martyred Occupy's puppeteers, unemployed college grads, and other long-hair types. That's probably right, but it's also probably right that a lot of Manhattanites are looking forward to seeing the hamster wheel working again. Regardless of what happens to the movement, Bloomberg's defense of the raid, which saw two-dozen or so journalists and almost 200 protesters packed into paddy wagons, and their camp destroyed, is probably the best thing to come out of today's events:
"The police department routinely keeps members of the press off to the side when they're in the middle of a police action. It's to prevent the situation from getting worse and it's to protect the members of the press."
Everything Bloomberg does to you is for your own good, even jail! Radical chic rectal thermometer and New York Times' editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal had this to say:
The mayor seemed sincere in saying that he chose to clear the park in the middle of the night because that was the least disruptive time. And he said the city would meet its legal obligation to provide shelter for anyone who needs it. That's not likely to be near Wall Street, but he's not obliged to take location into account.
None of us were terribly impressed with the argument that in clearing the park, the city was simply trying to protect the rights of other people to go and protest there about other things. That had the hollow sound of post-facto spin.
But what is most important is what comes next – for the city and for the protesters.
Mayor Bloomberg has set a high bar for himself. He said that protesters may stay in the park 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They just won't be permitted to bring in tents or sleeping bags or set up camps. Fair enough.
Mr. Bloomberg also said they will not be allowed to lie down. If they do, the police will ask them to leave. Those who refuse will be carried out of the park. "Gently," he said, "unless they take a swing at a cop, in which case they will be arrested."
The Occupy Wall Street movement has to decide how to respond. The protesters can, of course, defy the city and get arrested. That's always been the risk – sometimes even the goal – of civil disobedience. We expect the mayor and the police to handle that with restraint.
On the other hand, this might become a turning point for the movement. Will the protestors rally around certain political candidates? Or start backing specific policy measures? I'll be watching with renewed fascination.