Friday, April 12, 2013

OWS Library Wins Lawsuit Against NYC

In the early-morning hours of November 15, 2011, the New York Police Department (NYPD) and city sanitation workers swept into Zuccotti Park, renamed "Liberty Park" by the mixture of people who had settled there two months earlier to protest income disparity, financial industry corruption, the high costs of education and healthcare, and more. In the process of removing the protestors from the park - with the approval and complicity of Brookfield Properties, owner of the park - the NYPD destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property, including books and equipment from the People's Library.

A young woman and older man (in the background) browse the People's Library.
Image via

The People's Library, established in the northeast corner of Liberty Park, consisted of shelving and crates containing more than 5,000 books, a few of which I donated as a supporter of Occupy Wall Street. In that same corner of the park, tables were set up for library users and computers with WiFi connection were made available to any patron who wanted to use them. The People's Library was a grassroots effort - created, organized, and managed by a dedicated group of actual librarians, information professionals, and book-loving volunteers who valued the democratization of information. When I visited, the People's Library was a bustling hub of people from all backgrounds flipping through, reading, and donating books.

In the November 2011 raid, the NYPD tossed thousands of these books into trash-compactor trucks, then hauled them to a storage facility, where OWS library workers were later told that they could retrieve them. Arriving at the storage facility, the library workers were alarmed to find that only 1,000 of the books were salvageable and the rest were damaged beyond repair: smashed, wet and moldy, and covered with food and waste. Occupy Wall Street decided to sue the City of New York for damages, asking for $47,000 in compensation to be paid to the movement's Library Working Group. The famous civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel took their case and the suit was filed in February 2012.

On Tuesday, April 9, 2013, OWS won their case against New York City. Rather than going to trial, the City of New York and Brookfield Properties agreed to settle, paying more than $230,000 in damages and legal fees. OWS got the $47,000 it sought for damage to the People's Library.

"Our clients are pleased," Siegel told the Village Voice. "We had asked for damages of $47,000 for the books and the computers, and we got $47,000. More important - we could not have settled without this - is the language in the settlement. This was just not about the money, it was about constitutional rights and the destruction of books."

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