[New York Times:]
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Tuesday defended his decision to clear the park in Lower Manhattan that was the birthplace of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, saying “health and safety conditions became intolerable” in the park where the protesters had camped out for nearly two months.
The mayor’s comments at a City Hall news conference came about seven hours after hundreds of police officers moved in to clear the park after warning that the nearly two-month-old camp would be “cleared and restored” but that demonstrators who did not leave would face arrest. The protesters, about 200 of whom have been staying in the park overnight, initially resisted with chants of “Whose park? Our park!”
The police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, said that nearly 200 people had been arrested, 142 in the park at 50 to 60 in the streets nearby. Most were held on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, among them City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, a Democrat who represents northern Manhattan. He was with a group near the intersection of Broadway and Vesey Street that was attempting to link up with the protesters in the park. The group tried to push through a line of officers trying to prevent people from reaching the park.
Matt Yglesias makes a pretty convincing case that this is probably good for OWS in the end, because the only other foreseeable outcome would involve the protesters losing interest as winter blew in and wandering off. I'm not entirely convinced this is true, in part because there's more than Zuccotti to the Occupy movement.
But a larger problem with this possible ending comes from what has been a growing problem over the past few weeks -- mission creep. As police cracked down on protest after protest across the nation, the focus seems to have shifted somewhat from income inequality and the legalization of Wall Street crime to the protesters right to protest itself.
Already, OWS protesters have a temporary restraining order allowing them to return to Zuccotti with their tents. And Bloomberg, by all accounts as of this writing, is illegally ignoring that order. The story is already shifting from "Wall Street is robbing America blind" to "the First Amendment still exists." While the right to protest is a fundamental American right, what they're protesting is being lost in the shuffle here.
Not helping any is the manner in which Bloomberg and the NYPD have handled this mass-eviction. It involved a government-imposed media blackout worthy of any banana republic dictator. Journalists trying to cover the story report being chased off and roughed up by police, while the air space over Zuccotti was restricted to prevent news helicopters from covering the raid. This is completely inexcusable and Bloomberg should be impeached or recalled over this, if city law allows such a thing. Bloomberg's blackout was not only blatantly unconstitutional, but un-American.
And Mayor Bloomberg's sudden embrace of a life of crime is an issue that must be dealt with. But we're creatures with binary minds; we're capable of doing two things at once. Bloomberg and the NYPD should be called to account for the egregious violations of the nation's highest law, but not at the cost of allowing it to change the subject.
Occupy Wall Street is about Wall Street, not the Occupiers' right to protest. Let's try to keep it that way.