Today, Occupy Wall Street and several librarians from the People’s Library filed a Federal lawsuit against Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, as well as other unknown city officials and employees, charging them with unconstitutional and unlawful seizure, damage and destruction of the Occupy Wall Street People’s Library in the middle of night on November 15, 2011, part of the wider raid on the occupation of Zuccotti Park.
On that night, with a scant 45-minute warning, NYPD officers ordered Zuccotti Park cleared and vacated. Occupiers were told they would be allowed to return when the park had been cleaned and that remaining property would be transported to a DSNY garage on 57th Street, where it could be recovered with proper identification. However, the NYPD blocked librarians—inside and outside the park—from gathering the library’s books and equipment. With most occupiers and journalists expelled from the park, workers loaded items from the park into “crusher” trucks, only later switching to flatbed trucks. The next day, when librarians went to recover books and equipment from the 57th St. Sanitation Garage, they found just a small percentage of the books that were taken. Of the approximately 3,600 books seized that night, only 1,003 were recovered. Of that number, 201 were so damaged while in the possession of the City of New York that they were made unreadable. Thus, at least approximately 2,798 books were never returned—presumably victims of the “crusher” trucks—or were damaged beyond repair.
Most of the library simply disappeared: the books, the tent, the shelves, our stamps, our donation box, and more. The books that came back destroyed stank with mildew and food waste; some resembled accordions or wrung-out laundry.
None of this is new. We made the results of Bloomberg’s raid public back in November, asking the city to replace the books and admit wrongdoing. However, Bloomberg has not admitted wrongdoing and has denied that any books or property was damaged or destroyed. We know that is not true.
We cannot allow the Mayor and his commissioners to get away with these violations of law and constitutional rights. We have now filed a Federal lawsuit to demand accountability from the city and its officials, demanding both compensatory and punitive damages. We believe that the raid and its aftermath violated our First-Amendment rights to free expression, Fourth-Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure, and Fourteenth-Amendment rights to due process, as well as the laws of the City of New York regarding the vouchsafing of seized property. We are demanding compensatory damages for the lost/destroyed books and equipment, which we have estimated at at least $47,000. In addition, because we believe the seizure and destruction of the books went beyond negligence to constitute a reckless and callous indifference to our constitutional rights, we are demanding punitive damages of at least $1000.
These books—and the library itself—arose organically with Occupy Wall Street; visitors and occupiers (as well as authors, publishers, and editors) brought books and other materials to the park, and librarians —some professionals, and others not—stepped forward to steward what at the time of the raid became a collection of 5,500 titles with an honor-system borrowing policy. The library was a common space for education, debate, relaxation, and information. While lawsuits use the language of “property” and “damages,” what is at stake here is much more. Our books—and these were all our books—should not have been destroyed. We hope to hold the Bloomberg Administration accountable for their actions on Nov 15th.
Full complaint is here.