By William Lewis
The confrontation between the city government and the Occupy Wall Street protesters has ended with the police evicting them from Zuccotti Park from the standpoint of not allowing them to use the park for living and sleeping quarters.
Hopefully, this will not arise again in the future, although it is apparent that other forms of protest will probably continue.
During the late 1960s and early ’70s, we witnessed the anti-war movement with its many demonstrations and marches, especially during 1968. During that time, there were constant confrontations with law enforcement agencies in city streets and on college campuses.
It can be said that this type of activity had the effect of influencing United States foreign policy, since we halted our military effort in Vietnam and then-President Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for re-election in 1968.
The anti-war movement started during the mid-’60s and continued to almost the mid-’70s. It focused almost entirely on the war issue.
Today, the protest movement has directed its attention to economic and financial issues in terms of changing the financial structure of our nation, although the movement does not say how other than the fact that it wants a more equal distribution of wealth.
It becomes a serious question as to how our elected officials — especially in the executive branch of government at the city, state and federal levels — will deal with a huge protest movement. Will we see a replay of the ’60s street and campus demonstrations or will the protest movement be handled differently from that earlier period?
As we look upon the recent confrontation with the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Mayor Michael Bloomberg seemed at times to go out of his way to accommodate them. He kept referring to their First Amendment rights as a paramount consideration. Even during the eviction of the protesters from Zuccotti Park, Bloomberg was careful not to criticize the occupiers too strongly.
One prime example was that the mayor had little to say about the fact that seven police officers were injured during the protesters’ most recent major demonstration. We contrast that with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani in terms of how he would have handled these events and it seems that there would have been a considerable difference.
Giuliani has recently said that he would not have tolerated the protesters taking over a privately owned park for living quarters at night and he would have immediately had them evicted. Giuliani consistently backed our city police. He would have emphasized the efforts of our police in handling demonstrations. He would probably have stressed the number of police injured in dealing with the demonstrators.
The role of the courts is an important matter in future law enforcement dealings with street demonstrations and protest situations. Bloomberg has recently indicated that one reason he did not move sooner on getting the protestors out of Zuccotti Park was that he was concerned that the courts might rule in favor of the people occupying the park and, after they had been evicted by the police, the judicial branch might order the city to allow the protesters to continue to live in the park, citing their First Amendment rights.
It would be interesting to know how many other mayors of large cities with similar problems of demonstrators setting up living accommodations in streets and parks had concern about courts ruling against city initiatives in dealing with protesters who are destabilizing society.
It is necessary that elected and appointed judges back our local government regarding matters of public safety.