Nearly six months after Occupy New Haven set up camp on the Green, federal judge Mark Kravitz ruled that the city has the right to evict the protest.
In a decision released Monday afternoon, Kravitz ruled that the city acted within its rights when it asked protesters to leave the Green last month. Unless a higher court grants protesters a third stay, Occupy New Haven protesters will have until noon Tuesday to pack up, at which point the Green can be legally cleared of all Occupy structures. While some protesters have already left, others plan to protest peacefully should police come to clear the Green.
“This decision, the first ruling to address the full range of legal arguments and facts involved in this case, means that the New Haven Green will once again be a place for all and not serve as a private residence for a few,” Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said in a statement following the decision. “The city will honor the court’s request and we expect the members of Occupy New Haven to do the same.”
In his 26-page-long decision, Kravitz rejected Occupy attorney Norm Pattis’ argument that evicting Occupy New Haven infringed on the protesters’ First Amendment rights. While he acknowledged that members of Occupy New Haven are exercising speech rights protected by the First Amendment, he ruled that the city’s regulations governing the Green were constitutionally valid and therefore could be used to force protesters to leave.
In his ruling, Kravitz also described the relationship between the city and the Proprietors of Common and Undivided Lands in New Haven — the centuries-old private organization that owns the park — as “troubling,” citing legal complications of a private organization exerting influence over the city’s decisions. But Kravitz’s finding did not affect his ruling on the Occupy question, and he did not forward the question of the proprietors’ ownership of the Green to the Connecticut Supreme Court as Pattis had hoped.
Following the decision, Pattis Tweeted that he would seek to appeal to a higher court in New York Tuesday morning in order to seek another stay for the protesters, potentially buying them more time. But several Occupy protesters on the Green Monday evening said they were not optimistic that the appeal would succeed.
While some protesters packed up and left, others said they would not leave until forced to by the city. Those who chose to remain erected barricades around the center of the camp, though they said they would not physically resist police.
Danielle DiGirolamo, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who said she has lived with Occupy New Haven since the protest arrived in the city, encouraged a group of around 30 protesters to protest peacefully when police come.
“If you’re going to pick something up, pick up a sign,” DiGirolamo said. “This is not the end — we will still be here.”
Occupy New Haven, which officially began on Oct. 15, initially enjoyed a cooperative relationship with City Hall. At the time, then-City Hall spokesman Adam Joseph said the city’s only concern about the protest involved public safety around the encampment.
With the arrival of warmer temperatures, city officials and the Green’s proprietors said they were concerned that Occupy New Haven’s presence on the Green was hindering the ability of other residents to use the space. They also worried that the effects of the encampment could cause long-term damage to the Green, including to the elm trees that give New Haven its nickname, the Elm City.
But protesters have claimed that the city sought Occupy’s removal at the behest of Yale administrators who they say wished to clear the Green in time for the University’s May Commencement ceremony. But DeStefano, head proprietor Drew Days LAW ’66, University spokesmen Tom Conroy and Michael Morand all said that Yale has had no involvement in the city’s decisions about Occupy New Haven.
After two February meetings between city officials and protesters failed to reach a compromise, city officials issued a notice to the encampment that the Green would have to be cleared of tents by March 14. But following a last-minute lawsuit by Pattis, judge Janet Hall gave Occupy protesters permission to remain on the Green through March 28, when Kravitz was to hear the case. Kravitz himself extended Occupy’s deadline to stay on the Green to Monday in order to give himself time to issue a decision.
Occupy New Haven is the oldest surviving encampment of the international Occupy protest movement in New England.