By Ben Fractenberg, Julie Shapiro, Sonja Sharp, Carla Zanoni, Della Hasselle and Caroline Jumpertz
LOWER MANHATTAN — Hundreds of protesters reentered Zuccotti Park Tuesday evening, determined to reclaim the birthplace of the Occupy Wall Street movement, despite losing a major legal battle with the city.
Cheers and cries of victory coud be heard as the protesters trickled back into the park through checkpoints under the watchful eye of the NYPD, which had kicked them out of the park 16 hours earlier.
"It feels like our own little part of history," said Lee Debo, 44, of the Bronx. "I still have some worries about what's going to happen coming down the road, but it feels good for the common man to prevail."
The protesters had surrounded the park Tuesday afternoon in anticipation of a judge's ruling about whether they would be allowed back into the space where they'd been encamped for nearly two months. The judge said they could return, provided they didn't bring their sleeping bags and tents with them. They were also instructed not to lie down on the benches and ground and were barred from storing personal property there.
The rules would be enforced by employees of Brookfield Properties, which owns Zuccotti Park, with the assistance of the NYPD, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told NY1. Those who did not comply with the rules, which were posted on new signs around the park, were subject to arrest, he said.
Musical instruments, particularly drums, which had tormented Occupy Wall Street's neighbors for weeks, weren't explicitly banned under park rules, but several protesters said they were told by cops they couldn't bring their instruments in.
Nevertheless, more than 1,000 protesters flowed back into the park, and some were planning to spend the night.
"I'm staying because it's awesome that we're still here after all the madness," said Jack Amico, 23, an artist from Staten Island.
Mark Wood, 52, from upstate New York, was also planning to stay.
"We are half back," he said. "[The eviction] backfired on them. I'm concerned about what the government is going to do to us next. Are they going to take the shoes and coats away?"
The NYPD evicted the Occupy Wall Street protesters during a 1 a.m. raid that resulted in roughly 200 arrests. The plan had been put together well in advance of the predawn action. Sources said hundreds of cops who were ending their normal shift Monday night were told to head to lower Manhattan and get into riot gear.
Several journalists were arrested during the ensuing scrum between cops and protesters, including two from DNAinfo.com. News Editor Patrick Hedlund was arrested early Tuesday morning. A freelance photographer on assignment for DNAinfo.com, Paul Lomax, was arrested covering protests at Duarte Square in SoHo. Both journalists were released later Tuesday.
After Zuccotti Park was cleared, Dept. of Sanitation workers moved in and tore down the encampment's tents, tarps and protest signs. Protesters were told they could retrieve their belongings at a Hell's Kitchen Sanitation facility Tuesday afternoon, but they were turned away when they showed up. They were told to come back Wednesday.
Sunshine Simpson, 22, of North Carolina, stood outside Zuccotti Park Tuesday afternoon wearing a tie-died T-shirt and was bracing himself for a chilly night. He had lost lost most of his belongings (including his wallet, sleeping bag, journal and books) during the raid.
"I don't know what we're going to do, but I'm not going anywhere," said Simpson. "Because of this hardship we are going to grow tremendously."
The throng of protesters were informed of the judge's decision by the "human microphone," where one protester's words are repeated and amplified by the group so all can hear. There was an audible groan when the word came that the protesters wouldn't be allowed to take up residence again in Zuccotti Park.
"It's garbage," Mia Ragovino, 23, of Brooklyn, said of the decision. "Taking away the right to have tents and sleeping bags is shutting down the movement. The point is not to have a march every day, the point is to be here all the time every hour of every day.
"With the winter, how are we supposed to stay here without blankets and tents to protect us?" she said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he sent in the NYPD after receiving a letter from Brookfield Properties requesting the city help in to clear the park so it could be cleaned.
"We have been in constant contact with Brookfield and yesterday they requested that the city assist it in enforcing the no sleeping and no camping rules in the park," Bloomberg said at a morning press conference. "But make no mistake — the final decision to act was mine."
Cops roused protesters just after 1 a.m. Tuesday and forced them to vacate the park. They distributed fliers that told the park needed to be cleared because the protesters had become a health and safety hazard.
"We lost the infrastructure. We lost the tents," said Liz Dalton, 45, of the Upper East Side, as a light drizzle fell over the protesters. "But, if anything, this forceful disruption has just ignited even more momentum."