Having faced down every news org in the city during the abortive eviction of Occupy Wall Street protesters at Zuccotti Park in mid-October, the NYPD elected to carry out a second operation without any warning and under an apparent media blackout on Tuesday between midnight and 2 a.m.
CBS was asked to keep air space over the park clear (the net had been live streaming the confrontation between protesters and police). Rosie Gray of the Village Voice told an NYPD officer that she was a member of the press, to which the officer reportedly responded, “Not tonight.” Other reporters confirmed that they were not allowed into the park, although many managed to report on the event despite discouragement and reported threats that the police would confiscate press credentials if journalists refused to obey orders. Many outlets ran YouTube clips filmed by protesters themselves.
By Tuesday afternoon, Zuccotti Park was partially reopened to the public, with police on hand to bar protesters who appeared to be attempting to smuggle in contraband, which now includes tents, generators and sleeping bags. New York Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman retroactively upheld the group’s eviction from the park on Tuesday afternoon, saying that the First Amendment did not guarantee activists the right to indefinitely set up shop in the plaza.
Journalists arrested during the Tuesday crackdowns include AP reporter Karen Matthews, AP photog Seth Wenig, Daily News reporter Matthew Lysiak, NPR freelancer Julie Walker and New York Times freelancer Jared Maslin. Many tweeted news of forced removal from the scene under the hashtag #mediablackout. Manhattan City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez was also arrested.
One outlet not caught by surprise was the New York Post, which has been campaigning for a shutdown of the protest for several weeks. The News Corp. newspaper’s late city final had a censored picture of a naked protester taken the day prior and a full story on the eviction, with details about Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s meeting with FDNY commissioner Sal Cassano and police commissioner Ray Kelly.
The story was posted at 1:20 a.m. on the Post’s website, around the time the Mayor’s Office tweeted orders to the protesters to clear out with the #OWS hashtag. On Tuesday, the paper published an editorial calling the operation “a long-overdue fumigation.”
After the eviction, dozens of Occupy protesters were left without a port of call; the media, now fully awake, followed OWS to Duarte Park, a private park owned by sometime Occupy ally Trinity Wall Street, an Episcopal church. Protesters hopped the wooden fence and climbed through a hole in the chainlink to begin setting up shop. Inside, a group from the Occupy “puppet guild” nervously manned a three-person Statue of Liberty puppet. “Are they coming in?” one asked a recent arrival. “We have to decide whether we’re out or in, because it looks like they’re going to block us inside,” he said.
Tony and Oscar winner Frances McDormand watched from the sidewalk and participated in the chanting as the crackdown began, although she asked not to be quoted for this article.
Word arrived that Trinity Wall Street, which owns the space, had asked protesters not to set up shop at Duarte Square, and a white police bus pulled up at the front of the park as police blocked the chainlink hole in the rear. A comedy group inside the park practiced “getting arrested” for the audience on the other side of the fence — one hit another while shouting, “You’re resisting arrest! You’re resisting arrest!”
About half an hour later, the police dragged out protesters, including an apparently nonviolent protester who was thrown roughly to the sidewalk as several officers held him down and one appeared to strike him in front of several media outlets, including Variety. The crowd chanted “Shame!” and “The whole world is watching!” as the protesters were dragged away.