NYPD clears Occupy Wall Street compound, 70 arrested; Update: Judge issues restraining order reopening park; Update: Bloomberg keeping park closed until TRO is "clarified"

How big of a story has Occupy Wall Street become? ABC’s New York affiliate sent three reporters to Zuccotti Park on the ground and a fourth in the air for an eight-minute broadcast report on its end — or at least its temporary end.  The owners of Zuccotti Park finally decided to clear the grounds for a long-delayed “cleaning,” which given the state of the protesters over the last couple of months, might take a good long while to complete:

The NYPD cleared Zuccotti Park of protesters early Tuesday, with at least 70 people arrested as the demonstrators were forced out of their longtime encampment in Lower Manhattan. However, they’ve been told they can return once the park has been cleaned.

According to Deputy Police Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne, at least 70 people were taken into custody as the park was cleared.

The final group of protesters to be removed from the park, about a dozen people, was chained to each other and to trees.

Don’t worry about the trees; the NYPD brought power saws but cut through the chains, which can’t have been pleasant for those who chained themselves to the trees. Otherwise, this operation appears to have been as quiet as possible, under the circumstances. The NYPD chose to clear the park in the middle of the night to reduce the potential for confrontation, and despite the 70 or more arrests, that seems to have succeeded.

One woman calls this move “unexpected,” but it did not come entirely without warning. About an hour or so before the police cleared the park, they distributed notices of eviction. The mayor’s office put out word that campers in the park would have to leave. They will be allowed back once Zuccotti Park is rendered healthy enough for use, but Mayor Bloomberg warns that park rules will be enforced from now on:

Bloomberg says protesters will be allowed back in the park after it is cleaned. But he says protesters will not be allowed to use tents, sleeping bags, or tarps and will have to follow all park rules.

He says the law that created Zuccotti Park required that it be open for the public to enjoy for passive recreation 24 hours a day.

Since the Occupy Wall Street protesters took it over almost two months ago, he says it has not been available to anyone else.

Protesters insist that “you can’t evict a movement whose time has come.” So far, it looks as though the NYPD can. I’d guess that Brookfield will need at least a week to clean and recover Zuccotti Park, and with winter approaching, I’d bet that the Occupy movement will fade back into well-deserved obscurity.

Update: Hey, you thought that private property owners could evict squatters after two months of allowing them to vent their incoherent political frustrations?  Not in New York City, pal (via JWF):

A New York judge on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order allowing protesters to return to Zuccotti Park only hours after police forcibly removed them, arresting dozens.

The order by Justice Lucy Billings set a hearing date for Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. and said that until the matter was considered at that hearing, the city and Brookfield Properties, the owners of Zuccotti Park, would be prohibited from evicting protesters or “enforcing ‘rules’ published after the occupation began or otherwise preventing protesters from re-entering the park with tents and other property previously utilized.”

It was not immediately clear what effect the order would have on the protesters meeting in nearby Foley Square. Some had advocated returning to the park.

Er … okay.  If the judge wanted to schedule a hearing for just a few hours later, why bother with the restraining order?  After all, keeping the park closed for a brief period of time wouldn’t do any harm to the plaintiffs (the squatters) in this case; they could return at 1 pm instead of 7 am if the ruling went against the owners of Zuccotti Park.  On the other hand, forcing the park’s reopening and then allowing Brookfield to close it again will cause a significant amount of harm to the property in question, as well as to the police who have to conduct a second sweep to clear the park.  And those are just the practical arguments against such an order.  It’s absurd for a judge to argue that the owners of private property can’t evict squatters who refuse to leave ever.

Somehow, I’d guess that the NYPD will find many delays in implementing this order.

Update II: Via the Right Scoop, Mayor Bloomberg announced in his press conference this morning that the city would keep Zuccotti Park closed until the temporary restraining order could be “clarified” so that police know which rules to enforce.  That’s about what I figured would happen.