NEW YORK – Barricades surrounding a park that served as a camp for Occupy Wall Street protesters were removed Tuesday, allowing protesters to stream back in.
The atmosphere was celebratory but calm on Tuesday evening as about 300 protesters began filling New York City’s Zuccotti Park a couple of hours after the barricades were taken down and a day after a complaint about the barricades was filed with the city. Protesters milled around, eating lasagna on paper plates and playing chess.
Security guards who were previously guarding the barricades stood off to the side, along with a handful of police officers. It was a minor victory for the protesters, who have complained about financial inequality in demonstrations that gained traction across the globe.
“Word spread pretty quickly, and we ran down here,” demonstrator Lauren DiGioia said. “It’s hard to remember what it was like before the barricades were put up.”
Police spokesman Paul Browne said the NYPD and Brookfield Office Properties, the park’s owner, had been talking about removing the barriers last week. The decision was made to remove them Tuesday because officials felt they were no longer necessary, Browne said.
Brookfield spokeswoman Melissa Coley confirmed in an email that the barricades were taken down but declined to comment further. A Brookfield employee who refused to give his name told an Associated Press reporter: “The barriers are down, but the other rules are the same.”
Some Occupy protesters planned to stay overnight, DiGioia said, but it was unclear whether they planned to use tents or sleeping bags, which have been banned from the lower Manhattan park since an early morning police raid evicted protesters Nov. 15.
One security guard told a group of protesters: “No sleeping bags allowed, either, OK, folks?”
Zuccotti Park regulations, stipulated by Brookfield, ban everything from erecting tents or tarps to lying down on benches. Those rules were not enforced until the police raid and were only made public after protesters began occupying the park on Sept. 17.
Protester Jeff Brewer said he tried to erect a tent but it was quickly taken down by security guards.
“I was still putting in the poles when they showed up,” Brewer said. “Our food is in, our library is up. I think it’s going to be a big celebration for us in the park right now.”
On Monday, civil rights groups filed a complaint with the city’s buildings department saying the barricades were a violation of city zoning law because they restricted public access to the space. The New York Civil Liberties Union commended the removal of the barricades in a statement late Tuesday.
“We’re pleased the city is finally giving the park back to the people,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “We hope Zuccotti Park can now resume its rightful place as a center for meeting and protest in New York City.”