Thousands of Occupy Wall Street protesters who had gathered around Zuccotti Park in Manhattan Tuesday afternoon learned via the people's microphone early Tuesday evening that staying there is acceptable, but rebuilding their tent city is not. A State Supreme Court justice had just ruled that Mayor Mike Bloomberg is not required to let the protesters use shelters, and that they can return to the park, from which they had been kicked out early that morning.
The news came after a high-tension standoff between the protesters and police had already dragged on for most of the afternoon, leading to arrests and violence against protesters. Cops tried to keep sidewalks around Zuccotti clear and the park itself was guarded by dozens of police officers as well. At its peak, the showdown was between thousands of protesters and hundreds of police officers, many of whom were in riot gear. Three helicopters circled overhead through much of the afternoon.
As the tension reached a high point, one burly NYPD officer was witnessed by the International Business Times shoving a much smaller male protester to the ground but not arresting him. A girl, who attempted to enter the park while it was closed Tuesday afternoon, was hauled away screaming by police. Another male protester was thrown to the ground, arrested and taken away in handcuffs after an extended scuffle with several officers in riot gear.
A rogue group of fired-up protesters made loud, violent threats, including "We're going to burn this city down, F--k the police," "We're going to throw a Molotov cocktail in the window of Macy's," and more.
By the time the justice's ruling was announced to gathered protesters several hours later, the scene had calmed down considerably, and some protesters were seen interacting in a friendly manner with police officers, a number of whom made comments to folks gathered there about how they were not against the movement and even that they agreed with much of what was being said there.
"You're going to get in eventually," one officer announced to protesters early Tuesday afternoon. "Just hang tight 'til then."
But when the occupiers learned early Tuesday evening that Justice Michael D. Stallman had ruled against extending an order restraining the city from keeping people from setting up camp in the park, many OWS members were dismayed to learn that they would not be able to rebuild the physical structures of the makeshift community they had created, though tempers had cooled and the focus was on the movement's staying power.
"This just says that we can't protest in a nonviolent way without the police trying to push us back," said Tony Sesay, a Washington, D.C., man who has been at Zuccotti for a month. "I think they should let people back in so we can do what were were doing. People were getting along fine, connecting."
Bloomberg issued a statement Tuesday evening regarding Stallman's ruling.
"This morning we planned to re-open Zuccotti Park to the public, including any protestors, at approximately 8 a.m. when the cleaning was completed. The opening of the park was delayed due to legal action taken against the City, but Zuccotti Park is now open to the public," the statement said. "The court's ruling vindicates our position that First Amendment rights do not include the right to endanger the public or infringe on the rights of others by taking over a public space with tents and tarps. The City has the ultimate responsibility to protect public health and safety and we will continue to ensure that everyone can express themselves in New York City. Zuccotti Park will remain open to all who want to enjoy it, as long as they abide by the park's rules."
It remained to be seen as of 6 p.m. Tuesday whether there would continue to be an OWS presence in Zuccotti Park in coming days despite the new rules against tents and other structures.
But Christina Gonzalez, of Queens, who has stayed at Zuccotti intermittently since the second day of the occupation, said she believes the movement will prevail in the end.
"I don't think any of these people are going anywhere, they're going to find another place to occupy," she said. "This shows how ridiculous these laws are and the hypocrisy ... I think people are going to find a local place to occupy in the meantime because people need sleep, but we eventually have to come back here because this is where it all began."