NEW YORK - (AP) - Crackdowns against the Occupy Wall Streetencampments across the county reached the epicenter of the movementTuesday, when police rousted protesters from a Manhattan park and ajudge ruled that their free speech rights do not extend to pitchinga tent and setting up camp for months at a time.
It was a potentially devastating setback. If crowds ofdemonstrators return to Zuccotti Park, they will not be allowed tobring tents, sleeping bags and other equipment that turned the areainto a makeshift city of dissent.
But demonstrators pledged to carry on with their messageprotesting corporate greed and economic inequality, either inZuccotti or a yet-to-be chosen new home.
"This is much bigger than a square plaza in downtownManhattan," said Hans Shan, an organizer who was working withchurches to find places for protesters to sleep. "You can't evictan idea whose time has come."
State Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman upheld the city'seviction of the protesters after an emergency appeal by theNational Lawyers Guild.
The protesters have been camped out in the privately owned parksince mid-September. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he ordered thesweep because health and safety conditions and become"intolerable" in the crowded plaza. The raid was conducted in themiddle of the night "to reduce the risk of confrontation" and"to minimize disruption to the surrounding neighborhood," hesaid.
By early Tuesday evening, some protesters were being allowedback into the park two by two. But they could each take only asmall bag.
Still, some protesters believed the loss of Zuccotti Park may bean opportunity to broaden and decentralize the protest to give itstaying power.
"People are really recognizing that we need to build a movementhere," Shan said. "What we're dedicated to is not just aboutoccupying space. That's a tactic."
But without a place to congregate, protesters will have a hardertime communicating with each other en masse. The leaders of themovement spent most of Tuesday gathering in small groups throughoutthe city - in church basements, in public plazas and on streetcorners - and relaying plans in scattered text messages and emails.