MANHATTAN (CN) – Occupy Wall Street protesters can return to the downtown park that has served as their base of operations, a judge ruled Tuesday morning, granting them a restraining order hours after New York City evicted them in an early-morning raid.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg explained in a statement that the Zuccotti Park eviction occurred at 1 a.m. to minimize confrontation and neighborhood disruption. Members of the Occupy movement have rechristened the privately owned park as Liberty Square.
Later that morning, County Court Justice Lucy Billings signed a temporary restraining order filed by the National Lawyers Guild, which represents the Occupy protesters.
That order blocks the city from evicting protesters or “enforcing the ‘rules’ published after the occupation began,” which would outlaw the use of tents.
At a hearing later that day, another judge found that the protesters had not demonstrated a right to use tents in the park.
Bloomberg said the park occupation has removed the possibility of anyone enjoying the area unless they are protesting, and that, going forward, activists “will not be allowed to use tents, sleeping bags or tarps.”
“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,” the mayor said. “There have been reports of businesses being threatened and complaints about noise and unsanitary conditions that have seriously impacted the quality of life for residents and businesses in this now-thriving neighborhood. The majority of protestors have been peaceful and responsible. But an unfortunate minority have not been – and as the number of protestors has grown, this has created an intolerable situation.”
Bloomberg went on to discuss the limitations of the First Amendment to defend his eviction decision. “There is no ambiguity in the law here – the First Amendment protects speech – it does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space,” he said.
Attorney Gideon Oliver, who filed the restraining order on behalf of the protesters, said there were never any rules about park use before protesters descended there two months ago.
“The core expressive conduct involves a symbolic occupation of a traditional public forum. The messages being conveyed by the occupiers require a 24-hour occupation and tents, tarps, and the like,” Oliver said in an affidavit. “The around-the-clock OWS protest has come to symbolize the belief that people have the right to occupy public spaces in order to press the government to meet the needs of its people.”