Zuccotti and the Law

by Robert VerBruggen

As Brian and Dan noted, a judge has issued an order for the police to allow protesters back into the park, with their tents, until today’s hearing. The order also forbids the enforcement of any park “rules” (the order’s scare quotes) that were created after the protests started. Of course, this is insane: Zuccotti is privately owned, and owners of private property can make whatever rules they want and change them at will (excepting rules that are prohibited by law, such as those that discriminate by race). If reactions to some of my tweets on this matter are any indication, the OWS crowd has difficulty distinguishing between “open to the public” and “public property.”

The only conceivable justification for allowing protesters to bring tents into the park would be that New York City law somehow requires Zuccotti’s owners to allow camping. As a “privately owned public space” — an amenity that a private entity owns and maintains in exchange for perks from the city — Zuccotti is subject to restrictions that other private properties are not (for example, it must remain open 24 hours a day). I see nothing in the official standards for such spaces, however, that would require the owners to allow people to turn the park into a tent city. According to the New York Times, park owners are allowed to set their own rules, so long as they’re “reasonable.”

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