Michael Bloomberg urged to intervene and clear Zuccotti Park camp after rise in complaints from local residents

Three weeks ago, Occupy Wall Street protesters were on the verge of being turfed out of the lower Manhattan private plaza that has been their ramshackle home since 17 September. But after a public backlash and some high-level political intervention, the property company that owns Zuccotti Park backed away from confrontation.

Now, the camp is looking more entrenched than ever. And with the prospect of the protest becoming a permanent fixture in the financial district, calls are growing once again for authorities to take decisive action to clear the park.

So far, the New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has avoided an enforced eviction, saying only that police would support the will of the park’s private owner, Brookfield Properties. On Wednesday, however, Bloomberg cranked up the rhetoric, saying the city authorities would take action if they thought the moment was right.

As businesses in the area suffer and residents complain of public order problems, there have been ever-stronger calls for the mayor to bite the builet.

On Thursday a front-page editorial in the New York Post called on the mayor to evict the OSW camp, claiming it had been “hijacked by crazies and criminals”.

The Post’s stance was not a surprise ? the brash city tabloid has been frothing at the mouth over Occupy Wall Street for a while.

But concern about the camp has been coming from friendlier sources. The worries about the influx of the seamier side of New York to Zuccotti were first reported last Sunday by the New York Daily News, whose coverage has tended to be more sympathetic than that of the Post.

It carried a sober and well-researched piece by former a former Politico staffer Harry Siegel, saying the camp was struggling to cope with an increase in the number of homeless people, those with psychological problems, and criminals.

It contained the first airing of an allegation that police had been encouraging drunks to hang out at Zuccotti. The NYPD denied the story, but Siegel’s piece kicked off a week of debate about the state of the camp.

The Daily News reported 345 complaints had been logged against demonstrators by the city’s 311 system against demonstrators since the protests began. Sixty-five of them were noise complaints.

A Brooklyn man was charged with sexually assaulting a protester at the park on Wednesday. The News quoted police sources as saying he could be linked to a similar sexual crime at the camp.

When asked on Thursday if the mayor planned further action against protesters at Zuccotti Park, a spokesman for Bloomberg referred the Guardian to the comments he had made the previous day.

No one should think that we won’t take actions that we think are appropriate when they are appropriate. This isn’t an occupation of Wall Street, it’s an occupation of a growing vibrant residential neighbourhood in lower Manhattan.

Some business owners, which have reported losses and lay-offs because of the continuing protests, reported a brief upturn in trade after part of the financial district which had been effectively closed by barricades, was re-opened on Wednesday under orders of the mayor. However, they said a more permanent solution was needed.

Marc Epstein, owner of the Milk Street Café on Wall Street, said: “It’s killing me. Yesterday was the first good day since the protest began and now the barricades are up again. Not right outside but one door down.”

Hundreds of metal barricades that surrounded Wall Street were removed after a letter to Bloomberg from Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York assembly, and others complained about the effect on businesses. It also called on Bloomberg to enforce laws governing noise from “excessive drumming” and banning “public urination”.

Epstein, who said he had to lay off 21 workers after his business dropped 30% since the protest began, said he was not against the protesters but they needed to “find somewhere else to protest.”

“People are asking me if I’m going to reinstate the people I’ve laid off because the barriers are down. But they are back up again, because police have intelligence that people are coming to protest here. I’ve got more people here whose jobs are threatened. They need to find somewhere else to protest.”

A spokeswoman from FiDi, the Financial District Association, said: “The protest has affected our business badly because of the barriers. Even on the weekend, when we should be busiest, it’s almost dead.”

Anup Desai, a spokesman for OWS, played down the concerns. “As far as businesses losing money, and complaints against drummers, I would take that with a grain of salt. We had a street car vendor here who has been making money. He was letting protesters charge up their cell phones on his generator and the police came and gave him a ticket. They said it was a fire hazard. Now he has to go to criminal court. That is not encouraging small businesses, is it?

“As for the drummers, well this is lower Manhattan, one of the noisiest places in the world, and people are complaining about drumming? Music is everywhere.”

Desai said that the opinion page writers at the Post were “entitled to their opinion”. He added: “They benefit from freedom of speech.”

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Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2011/nov/03/occupy-wall-street-eviction-calls

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