Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Tuesday the decision to clear Zuccotti Park was his and his alone, but it came after weeks in which the mayor had struggled to balance the First Amendment rights of protesters with safety concerns and complaints from the local community. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
For two months, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been walking a tightrope when it comes to the Occupy Wall Street movement. He has cast himself as a defender of the First Amendment, while at the same time suggesting the protests were misdirected and blasting demonstrators for not doing more to turn suspected criminals in to police.
“It is despicable,” the mayor said on November 3.
In recent weeks, Bloomberg also spoke increasingly of the harm to local residents and businesses, and seemed to hint a crackdown was coming.
“No one should think that we won't take actions that we think are appropriate, when we think they are appropriate,” said the mayor on November 2.
Yet until Tuesday, the city avoided confrontation, in part because Zuccotti Park, while a public space, is privately owned by developer Brookfield Properties, which is free to establish its own rules for the park.
For weeks, the mayor had chosen not to enforce park rules, which prohibit camping or putting up tents.
But Bloomberg's thinking changed on Monday, when the mayor received a letter from Brookfield requesting that the city and the New York City Police Department move in, writing, “Conditions in the Park have deteriorated to the point where safety is an urgent issue. Crimes including rape, assault, theft, drug peddling, and harassment are being reported on a daily basis.”
At a news conference on Tuesday, Bloomberg pointed to health and safety concerns, citing the case of an emergency medical technician injured while attempting to get to a mentally ill man in the park.
Again, the mayor affirmed his support of the First Amendment, but stressed that protesters’ rights did not supersede the rights of others to use the park.
“The First Amendment protects speech. It does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space,” said the mayor.
As for clearing the park in the dead of night, Bloomberg said the timing was meant to reduce the risk of confrontation, though it did not prevent some 200 arrests or stop protesters from directing their ire at the mayor.