Witnesses describe Occupy Wall Street raid in Zuccotti Park
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It took nearly two months for Occupy Wall Street’s Lower Manhattan encampment to become as solid a community as one can build in an open-air park surrounded by traffic, people and construction, but it took just hours to make it disappear when police conducted a surprise raid early Tuesday.
By rush hour Tuesday morning, Zuccotti Park looked more like its old self, except for the gleaming concrete still wet from being power-washed and the helmeted police officers hanging out beneath the golden leaves of the trees dotting the plaza.
Police said tents, sleeping bags, clothes and other belongings seized during the raid could be retrieved later, but protesters such as Lopi LaRoe, a 47-year-old Brooklyn artist, were skeptical.
LaRoe was one of several former Zuccotti Park occupants standing on the sidewalks, looking bewildered and somewhat distraught at the sudden turn of events. She described watching sanitation crews scoop up mountains of belongings that had turned Occupy Wall Street’s base into home for people like herself. She said she had been there since Sept. 22, only going home to feed her cat.
Tents, books from the camp’s burgeoning library, bicycles, medical equipment, clothes and kitchen equipment -- all of it went. ‘I watched the stuff thrown into sanitation trucks and just crushed,’ LaRoe told a reporter, adding that among the items taken was one of her own works of art. The painting, called ‘Rise-Up Image,’ was meant to be the iconic image of Occupy Wall Street, she said.
She seemed doubtful that people would get their belongings back.
As she spoke, some protesters meandered down Broadway, which runs alongside Zuccotti Park. Some pumped their fists into the air. Others carried signs. ‘We’re still winning,’ read one.
LaRoe said the raid took everyone by surprise and that she got word of it during a meeting being held a few blocks away from Zuccotti Park with other Occupy Wall Street protesters. The meeting had become heated as individuals debated the future of the movement, she said. Some people carried their argument to the streets; that’s when they began noticing police -- a lot of police -- in the area, she said, and a car full of activists pulled up and warned them of the raid, which by then was well under way.
Also caught by surprise was 21-year-old Alan Lilienthal, who said he came to New York last week from San Diego with his brother, Itamar, to join the Occupy Wall Street protest and to try to make it as a musician in the big city. He stood on a street corner, his guitar slung over his shoulder, but 19-year-old Itamar was nowhere to be seen. ‘I can’t find my brother,’ said the clearly weary and worried Lilienthal.
Also in the area were Jethro Black, 38, and Joseph Allen, 21. Both men said they had jumped into a car and sped overnight into New York City from Occupy Philly after hearing that the raid was under way. The men said they had come to be supportive, but by the time they arrived, it was a bit late to do much beyond stand on the park’s perimeter and lament the loss of Occupy Wall Street’s camp.
By 8:25 a.m., though, some people were back in the park even as police maintained a presence along the perimeter. Nobody moved to evict the handful of activists who bypassed the officers and sat down to enjoy the abnormally warm November day. The National Lawyers Guild, which has provided legal services to Occupy Wall Street, said it had obtained a court order barring the city from keeping campers out of Zuccotti Park, according to the Associated Press.
At a news conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he had not yet seen the order but that he did not want to fully reopen the park until the legal issue was clearer.
-- Geraldine Baum and Tina Susman in New York