Protesters suspicious of plan to clean up NYC park

October 13, 2011 - 3:21 PM
Wall Street Protest

Workgroups at Zuccotti Park's

NEW YORK (AP) — The owner of the private park where Wall Street protesters are camped out gave them notice Thursday that after it power-washes the space it will begin enforcing regulations, which prohibit everything from lying down on benches to storing personal property on the ground.

The protesters' response was to plan a demonstration for an hour before they are supposed to evacuate Zuccotti Park while it is cleaned with power washers Friday morning. They believe the effort is an attempt to end the protest, which triggered a movement against unequal distribution of wealth that has spread across the globe.

Protest spokesman Patrick Bruner sent an email to supporters Thursday asking them to join the protesters at 6 a.m. Friday to "defend the occupation from eviction."

The owner, Brookfield Properties, earlier handed out a notice to protesters saying they would be allowed back in the park after the cleanup if they abide by park regulations.

The notice lists regulations including no tents, no tarps or sleeping bags on the ground, no lying on benches and no storage of personal property on the ground. All those practices have been common at the park, where protesters have lived, slept and eaten for nearly a month.

"They're going to use the cleanup to get us out of here," said Justin Wedes, 25, a part-time public high school science teacher from Brooklyn. "It's a de facto eviction notice."

The regulations are not new — they existed prior to the occupation — but they have not been enforced until now. Because the park is private property, police cannot enter it unless Brookfield calls and files a complaint requesting police assistance.

Brookfield confirmed Thursday that the notices were passed out to demonstrators, but spokeswoman Melissa Coley would not comment on how the regulations would be enforced.

"As sections of the park are cleaned, they will reopen to the public," Brookfield said in an emailed statement. "All are welcome to enjoy the park for its intended purpose as an open neighborhood plaza, in compliance with posted rules."

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said police will stand by during the cleaning and ensure it proceeds peacefully.

"After it's cleaned, they'll be able to come back, but they won't be able to bring back the gear, the equipment, sleeping bags," Kelly said. "That sort of thing will not be able to be brought back into the park."

Police officers escorted representatives of the company as the notices were passed out to demonstrators. Some protesters questioned the need to clean the park in the first place.

"This is the cleanest protest I've ever witnessed," said Emilio Montilla, 29, a laid-off teacher's assistant. "We take care of ourselves. We're self-sufficient."

The notice from Brookfield Properties stated that the 12-hour, section-by-section cleaning is slated to begin at 7 a.m. and is part of daily upkeep, and that conditions have deteriorated in recent weeks because that upkeep was put on hold by the protesters.

Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway said in a statement Wednesday that the protest has "created unsanitary conditions and considerable wear and tear on the park." He said Brookfield asked for police help to clear the park so it can be cleaned.

Holloway said the cleaning will be done in sections. Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited the protesters Wednesday to offer assurances.

The protest, known as Occupy Wall Street, has sympathetic groups in other cities which each stage their own local rallies and demonstrations: Occupy Boston, Occupy Cincinnati, Occupy Houston, Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy Philadelphia, Occupy Providence, Occupy Salt Lake, and Occupy Seattle, among them.

In Portland, Ore., where a camp with more than 300 tents and tarps has sprung up in two downtown parks, police arrested eight people before dawn Thursday for blocking a street.

In New York, police arrested four people Wednesday outside JP Morgan Chase offices where Wall Street protesters called in vain for a meeting with Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon.

Protesters accused the police of rough handling. An Associated Press photographer witnessed police officers heading into the crowd of demonstrators to make the arrests.

A lawyer for a woman pepper-sprayed during an action last month is demanding that the Manhattan district attorney prosecute an NYPD deputy inspector on an assault charge. Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the matter was being investigated by police internal affairs and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

More protests are planned in Toronto and Vancouver this weekend, and European activists also are organizing.

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press photographer Rick Bowmer in Portland and writers Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran, Iran, and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw.