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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Occupy Protesters Hold Dirge for Ruined Lit

MANHATTAN (CN) - Seated before a table full of badly damaged books, Occupy Wall Street activists and their lawyers demanded that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg replace the 3,000-plus library allegedly destroyed during the Nov. 15 raid of Zuccotti Park.

One title on the list, ironically enough, is the "Bloomberg by Bloomberg" autobiography.

Former New York Civil Liberties Union head Norman Siegel declined to "entertain a hypothetical" about whether a lawsuit over the missing and destroyed books is in the works, but nevertheless invoked "Dirty Harry."

"Make my day," Siegel said.

Sprawled across the table were three beat-up Bibles and a battered book of New Testament psalms. The binding twisted down the Hindu holy book, Bhagavad Gita. Several collections of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg works and biographies were found, to quote "Howl," "in tatters."

Feminist icon Naomi Wolf's "The End of America," lamenting the decline of civil liberties, had extensive water damage and was missing its cover.

Occupy Wall Street organizers posted their complete collection on Librarything.com, which lists more than 6,000 books.

Somewhat surprisingly, Milton Friedman's "Capitalism and Freedom," Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" and a signed copy of Andrew Carnegie's "The Gospel of Wealth" appear on that list.

So do the dystopian novels "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury and "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley.

Many other authors donated signed copies of their books for the so-called People's Library, speakers said, including one from U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine given on the eve of the raid.

"You see before you on this table the condition of some of the books that were returned," Siegel said. "It's not a pretty sight. The Bloomberg administration needs to replace every single book that's missing or damaged or not usable - together, about 3,161 books."

Daniel Norton, a doctoral student at the University of Maine at Augusta, said that his work with the People's Library validated his decision to drop a "very promising career as a doctoral candidate in pharmacy" to become a librarian.

"Everyone thought I was crazy because they were insisting that libraries were a dying breed, that I wasn't going to work, that it was foolish for what it was that I was doing," Norton said. "And I see that here, in the midst of chaos ... that people created a library, which speaks so much to the relevance of something."

The American Library Association echoed his words in a statement.

"The very existence of the People's Library demonstrates that libraries are an organic part of all communities," ALA President Molly Raphael said in a statement calling the "dissolution" of that library "unacceptable."

Other speakers included Gideon Oliver of the National Lawyers Guild's New York Chapter; Columbia Law School fellow Hawa Allan; and Occupy Wall Street activists Stephen Boyer, William Scott, and Frances Mercanti-Anthony, an actress who recently starred in the Broadway play "Jerusalem."

During a brief question-and-answer period, Siegel said that he could not find any precedent to date of a court case involving the destruction of a library, and he believes the New York Police Department may have violated their Patrol Guide statute 218-01 mandating that officers invoice seized property.

Although Siegel said he hoped to keep "legalese" out of the press conference, he asked for Oliver of the National Lawyers Guild to deliver "summations."

During his remarks, Oliver called the destruction of the People's Library "not only illegal but unconscionable."

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