The “occupation” has ended: after six months on the Green and a protracted legal battle with the city, Occupy New Haven is finally gone.
Police removed Occupy protesters from their Upper Green site early Wednesday morning, allowing the city’s parks department to clear the Upper Green of tents and debris. Occupy’s departure ended a two-month saga of city efforts to bring about the protest’s removal — first through talks and then forcibly — and came one day after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the city could legally remove the protesters from the Green.
“In the 28 weeks since Oct. 15 this became less about [protesting income inequality] and more it seemed about occupying the Upper Green, and holding onto that space,” Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said after the eviction. “It was important in my opinion and the opinion of the proprietors [of the Green] to secure the use of the Green for the rest of the city. I think that was the right decision, and I think most of New Haven felt that way.”
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Beginning at around 8 a.m., the deadline set by the New Haven Police Department for members of Occupy New Haven to vacate the Green, police began to arrest protesters who sat and linked arms around a tent and refused to leave. While some protesters passively protested inside the encampment, others stood outside the encampment and yelled at police officers.
Though at the beginning of Occupy New Haven’s six-month stint, protestors enjoyed a friendly relationship with police officials, relations have soured dramatically since protesters filed a federal lawsuit against the city in attempt to maintain their encampment. As the police arrived Wednesday morning, Occupy protesters called officers “facsist pigs” and “dogs,” brandishing a sign that read “New Haven Police: You are the underpaid servants of the 1 percent.”
“I don’t care if one of you gets killed and I see it happen,” Josh Heltke, one of Occupy New Haven’s earliest members, shouted to police officers during the eviction. “I will never cooperate, ever.” Heltke was later arrested for trying to enter the encampment site after it had been cleared of protesters.
According to DeStefano, who praised the “incredible professionalism and discipline” NHPD officers displayed at the eviction, a total of 13 protesters were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, interfering with police or both.
An Occupy supporter who identified himself as Frank called the eviction “disgraceful” and “disrespectful” to the American ideal of peaceful protest. The city, he said, should have given Occupy more than a day after the appeals court ruling to leave the Green.
After the immediate campground was clear of protesters, a hazmat team and bomb-sniffing dog examined tents and debris for any dangerous material. After police found a sleeping homeless man in one of the tents, who apologized to police and said he overslept before leaving the encampment, bulldozers began to clear the encampment nearly 100 minutes after the eviction began.
At a press conference after the eviction, DeStefano said the cost to the city of the Occupy protest, including six months of city services for protesters and the restoration of the Green, will total around $145,000. Deputy Director of Parks, Recreation and Trees Christy Hass said the city would begin uncompacting the dirt under the former encampment and reseeding bare swaths of the Green this week. If all goes according to plan, she said the Green might be restored before the summer.
Occupy protesters are free to return to the Green as soon as they want, DeStefano said.
“If Occupy participants return to the Green today, they are free to use the Green consistent with city regulations until 10 o’clock tonight,” DeStefano said. “They will not be permitted to erect structures on the Green, but they have a right to be there as do other residents of the city.”
Wednesday marked the end of long series of twists and turns in the city’s attempt to clear the Green of the Occupy encampment. The city invited Occupy protesters to two meetings in City Hall in February to determine the future of the Green after city officials and the Green’s legal proprietors — a group that has perpetuated itself since the 17th century — decided that the protest was unacceptably hindering public use of the Green.
But after Occupy members rejected a city proposal, officials issued a notice to protesters that they would have to leave the Green by mid-March. Attorney Norm Pattis took up the protest’s cause in court, filing a last-minute lawsuit claiming officials were unfairly infringing on protesters’ First Amendment rights.
Though Pattis managed to win Occupy New Haven nearly a month of extra time on the Green, protesters finally ran out of legal options when the federal appeals court issued its ruling Tuesday morning and a state housing court turned down an appeal that afternoon. Following the appeals court ruling, police warned protesters that they would be evicted at 8 a.m. the following day.
Despite their defeat, some protesters are sticking to their mantra of “You can’t evict an idea.”
Ty Hailey, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city, said he does not think the eviction will hurt the Occupy movement.
“I’m still feeling really positive about this,” Hailey said.
A group of around 40 Occupy protesters met for their weekly general assembly meeting Wednesday evening, this time on the Lower Green. There, protesters shared stories of the eviction and said they were “proud” of the way they had acted earlier Wednesday.
Occupy New Haven, which arrived in the city on Oct. 15, was the longest-lasting encampment of the Occupy protest movement in New England.