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NYC Police Arrest 49 Protesters in Duarte Square Park

New York City police clashed with protesters and arrested 49, some in religious garb, after they broke into a private park in Manhattan yesterday.

Occupy Wall Street protesters, who were evicted from their Lower Manhattan encampment last month, were marking the movement’s three-month anniversary by attempting to claim a second New York City park. They ripped holes in a fence around the park and used ladders to climb over it. Paul Browne, a spokesman for NYPD, confirmed the arrests in an e-mail.

Protesters had gathered for speeches, live music and performances in Duarte Square Park in New York’s TriBeCa neighborhood. Part of the half-block parcel is city-owned public land, while the other portion belongs to Trinity Wall Street, a nonprofit religious organization and one of the city’s largest real estate holders. Trinity hadn’t granted protesters permission for access.

“The church should give OWS the space. It’s not like they’re using it for anything now,” said Randi Freedman, 45, an attorney from Queens who said she has participated in the protests sporadically since the beginning. The events brought to light “the fact that we need public spaces to be able to exercise freedom of speech and freedom of assembly,” Freedman said yesterday.

Entering Park

One of the first to enter the park by ladder was Episcopal Bishop George Packard, dressed in purple cassock with collar, who’s been a public supporter of OWS, said Dan Shockley, a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild who was at the scene. Ben Meyers, a staffer at the National Lawyers Guild office, confirmed that Packard was among those arrested.

After the arrests, groups of protesters fanned out throughout the city to hold marches, including in Times Square. Late last night dozens of protesters gathered in Zuccotti Park, which had served as the symbolic heart and 24-hour headquarters of the movement for two months.

Protesters have been searching for new space since New York police on Nov. 15 evicted them from the park. Brookfield Office Properties Inc., operator of the publicly owned private space, has since banned tents, tarps and other gear that enabled hundreds to sleep there each night. Lying down at all is now prohibited.

Like their colleagues in other U.S. cities who have faced similar evictions, the lack of a 24-hour public presence has led New York organizers to rely on “days of action” to attract media attention and public support as they continue their fight against economic inequality.

Protesters Marched

The events were “part of a call to reoccupy in the wake of the coordinated attacks and subsequent evictions of occupations across the nation and around the world,” according to a Dec. 16 e-mailed statement. “Vast resources sit unused while people are in need: in need of homes, schools, jobs and public places to gather and empower communities.”

Protesters marched through a Brooklyn neighborhood this month to claim a foreclosed property for a local family as part of a nationwide day of demonstrations against home seizures. In November, thousands of participants marched across the Brooklyn Bridge after unsuccessfully trying to disrupt the New York Stock Exchange.

This week, Occupy activists interrupted shipping at some West Coast ports in Oakland, California; Portland, Oregon, and Seattle while falling short of a coordinated shutdown aimed at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which owns a stake in the largest cargo-terminal operator.

Duarte Square’s eastern edge is public parkland while an adjacent larger, fenced-in area is owned by Trinity. Occupiers haven’t been granted permission to enter the space by either Trinity or the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, to which the area is currently licensed for an art installation that’s closed for the season, said Lloyd Kaplan, a spokesman for Trinity.

Trinity Wall Street

Occupy members have met with Trinity Wall Street since the Zuccotti eviction to argue that the organization should “do the right thing, and offer sanctuary to the movement in this vacant lot.” They claim the support of hundreds of faith leaders, civil-rights movement alumni and artists, including Desmond Tutu, the anti-Apartheid activist and archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa.

In a Dec. 9 statement, Reverend James H. Cooper said Trinity has “probably done as much or more for the protesters than any other institution in the area.” It’s provided Occupy members with meeting rooms, pastoral services and spaces to rest, charge mobile phones and computers, and use bathrooms, he said.

“We disagree with those who argue that Trinity should -- indeed, must as a matter of conscience -- allow Occupy Wall Street to liberate its Duarte Square lot at Avenue of the Americas and Canal Street for an open encampment and large scale assemblies,” Cooper said. “In all good conscience and faith, we strongly believe to do so would be wrong, unsafe, unhealthy and potentially injurious.”

After yesterday’s actions, Cooper issued a comment by Tutu in an e-mailed statement: “In a country where all people can vote and Trinity’s door to dialogue is open, it is not necessary to forcibly break into property.”

-- With assistance from Chris Dolmetsch in New York. Editors: Mark Schoifet, Mo Hadi

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