On November 15th, 2011, under the cloak of night and with no warning, the NYPD violently evicted Occupy Wall Street’s encampment at Liberty Square in lower Manhattan. Other encampments across the nation were similarly evicted within a timeframe that pointed more towards “coordination” than “coincidence.”
That night in November, amid the mass arrests of journalists and protesters alike, the NYPD destroyed “The People’s Library.” Those books – like the free clothes and free food and free housing – were a symbol of the power of democracy, the power of the Occupy Movement and the power of meeting each others’ needs.
Today, the OWS Library filed a lawsuit in federal court demanding acountability from the NYPD and claiming violations of the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment. A PDF of the lawsuit is available below.
“We believe what the Bloomberg administration did on November 15th, 2011 was unconstitutional and illegal,” said Norman Siegel, former director of the NYCLU and current civil rights lawyer. “Part of the lawsuit will give us more information on why and who did this.”
Riot-gear clad cops seized approximately 3,600 books along with six computers, tents and other electronics. Nearly 2,800 books were never returned. Of the 1,003 books returned, 201 were irreparably damaged. The librarians compiled a list of missing and destroyed items with an estimated value of $47,000.
Stephen Boyer, curator of the Poetry Anthology was one of the original librarians at Liberty Square the night of the raid. He was given around 45 minutes to remove 3600 books and wasn’t allowed back after bringing some books to a safe location. He’s a witness for the case. “The books are a symbol of knowledge and free speech and that’s what scares the Bloomberg administration.”
Something that Bloomberg administration never did was actually address the issues that Occupy Wall Street brought up. From the lawsuit:
“A central tenet of OWS is that the growing income inequality in the United States is unjust, unacceptable and must be rectified. OWS has petitioned the government to redress this grievance through demonstrations in New York City and throughout the country.”
Frances Mercanti-Anthony, an OWS librarian and plaintiff for the case agreed that the NYPD has repeatedly tried to silence Occupy. “Books are not bombs and we are not terrorists. Mayor Bloomberg and the city of New York have tried repeatedly to stop people from having vital conversations about economic inequality and social injustice. The destruction of The People’s Library is the perfect example of this.”
And perhaps it’s not about books. “This is about out of control government power and attacks on enlightenment,” said Bill Dobbs, another OWS librarian.
The bottom line is that the eviction should have been handled differently. The ability to express the rights so explicitly designated in the Constitution is fundamental to a civic society. The NYPD seems to operate under the principle of smash first, go to court later – but how much acccountability are they really held to when the NYPD has paid out nearly $1 billion for their fuckups over the past ten years?
They know the psychological effects of profligately scattering innumerable barricades A.K.A. “freedom cages” around the city. It was never about a park. It’s about power.
Here’s a video of the destruction of the library: