, NEW YORK, Nov 16 – Protesters have flooded back into the New York park where police demolished their two-month-old tent camp, vowing to step up the Occupy Wall Street campaign despite a ban on camping out there.
The movement to protest alleged corporate greed and political dysfunction was thrown into crisis during a turbulent 24 hours on Tuesday that began with a surprise early morning police raid on the privately-owned Zuccotti Park.
Protesters then spent the day playing cat-and-mouse with authorities as they sought to re-establish their base near Wall Street, the symbolic epicenter of a movement that has inspired similar protests in other US cities and abroad.
In the evening, police reopened the park and let the protesters back in one-by-one — but only after a New York judge backed a ban on pitching tents, rejecting the demonstrators’ legal challenge to the dismantling of the camp.
“No one will be denied entry,” a police officer said at the gate, as people began to wander back in. Organizers put the number at 1,200. Once inside, the crowd began to chant: “All day, all week, occupy Wall Street.”
Both sides were claiming victory after judge Michael Stallman ruled that the owners of the park and the authorities were not denying protesters their constitutional right to freedom of speech by banning them from camping out.
“Zuccotti Park will remain open to all who want to enjoy it, as long as they abide by the park’s rules,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.
The judge’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,” Bloomberg said.
But protesters were also elated that they were allowed back into the Manhattan park, owned by Brookfield Properties, which they have been occupying since mid-September.
Dallas Carter, 32, said the protesters “have to go back to court to get the tents and sleeping bags again. But it’s still a victory.”
“The police don’t have too much choice,” said Mike Reilly, 29, from Philadelphia. “The movement will survive in one way or another.”
Cheering protesters agreed to march to the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday to mark the movement’s two-month anniversary.
Helmeted New York police poured into the park — a short walk from the stock exchange and the site of the World Trade Center — at about 1:00 am (0600 GMT) Tuesday with bright lights and an army of sanitation workers.
About 200 people were arrested during the surprise operation, which saw only sporadic violence and ended before dawn, leaving cleaning crews to cart off piles of tents and other gear before scrubbing the square clean.
The decision by Bloomberg to end the occupation followed crackdowns in other US cities, and spurred officials in London to resume legal action against a camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral.
Small business owners near Zuccotti Park had complained about the noise and unsanitary conditions in the camp, accusing the demonstrators of trashing their store bathrooms and driving away customers.
Pressure had been mounting on Bloomberg to resolve the situation in a neighborhood already strained by years of disruption from the World Trade Center rebuilding project.
On Monday riot police dismantled a similar protest camp in Oakland, California, arresting more than 30 demonstrators. Protests in the western cities of Portland and Denver were also recently broken up.
Tuesday’s development left the Occupy DC protest in Washington as one of the last significant permanent camps created by the movement.
“I don’t think there’s any plan on leaving,” said Marc Smith, a spokesman. “There’s really not too much concern at this point.”
More than 300 protesters marched on the White House on Tuesday, inviting President Barack Obama — who was en route to Australia at the time — to side with their movement.
Elsewhere, at least 1,000 marchers descended on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, but school officials said they would not allow them to set up a new camp.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama was “aware” of the situation but maintained that “each municipality has to make its own decisions about how to handle these issues.”
“We would hope and want that… a balance is sought between the long tradition of freedom of assembly (and) freedom of speech in this country.”