Property Issues not Clear-Cut in Occupy Wall Street Zuccotti Park Eviction

In the latest attack by governments on free people, Michael Bloomberg of New York City has ordered his police to evict Occupy Wall Streeters from Zucotti Park. If this wasn’t bad enough, I noticed a libertarian friend post this today:

My thoughts regarding the clearing out Zucotti Park: Good! Zucotti Park is privately owned, therefore, no one has the right to engage in activities its owner deems unsuitable. The property owners were trespassed upon and the protesters initiated force against the property owners. Therefore, the property owners have every right to retaliatory self-defense.

This, sadly, is glib, reactionary and characteristic of the worst kind of right-libertarian thinking. Do any clear-thinking Ayn-Randians recognize the context-dropping that is evident in the above paragraph? Let’s take a closer look.

1. How did they come by it?

First, how did the current owner (Brookfield Office Properties Inc.) become owners of record for it? Did they use state privilege to get it? To earn the money they used to buy it? Or was it some kind of gift from the state?

According to Wikipedia, Zucotti park was created when US Steel wanted to build a building in New York City a little higher than what government officials would allow. In return for government permission, US Steel created the park.

So far I have been unable to find when or how the current owner acquired the park.

US Steel and Brookfield Office Properties Inc. are large corporations. They have benefited from, at the very least, government-granted limited liability protection. This enables them to escape complete accountability for their actions.

Brookfield Office Properties Inc. is a real estate company. It is likely that it benefited from the recent government-created real estate bubble. It may also benefit from various government incentives routinely granted at the local level for construction of arenas, large buildings, etc. Finally, real estate often requires large bank loans. Banks are chartered by the state. They use a state-controlled and -manipulated currency. And banks have the exclusive privilege of using fractional reserve banking to issue more loans than they likely could in a freed market. Finally, the government, through the Federal Reserve, keeps interest rates low. This makes it cheaper for those who borrow, such as real estate companies, and less rewarding for those who save, such as individual workers.

It’s been some time since I have studied the history of US Steel but it wouldn’t surprise me to find that it had benefited from tariffs on imported steel and other bailouts, price controls and/or war contracts.

In conclusion, the park has its origins in state privilege and state control. State power, as readers of this blog will know, is used by some to disadvantage others. It is unfair and illegitimate. Thus you can hardly claim that the current owners have a solid claim to control the park.

2. Do the owners of record use the property?

Second, do the owners of record use the property? When was the last time? Who is actually using the property?

There is an idea called usufruct. Among other meanings, this is the concept that those who use an item of property are the rightful owners, or at least their right to use it should be respected. And this makes sense to me. Any owner of record who doesn’t use their property is a specie of absentee landlord. Why should someone who never uses something have control over it and the people who do actually use it? This makes no sense to me.

Historically, absentee landlordism is a known evil. We can talk about the Irish example, the indigo farmers in India that Gandhi helped or sharecropping in the Southern US after the civil war. But none of them are pretty. Absentee landlordism is a way for some people to control others’ use of natural resources – the earth that is our common human heritage.

3. Did the occupiers agree to abide by the owner of record’s rules?

Third, are there signs posted to the effect that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) people are not wanted? Were they told they weren’t wanted there? Did the OWS people voluntarily agree to any certain conditions regarding their use of the space?

I haven’t been to Zucotti park, so I don’t know what signs are posted. But I have read that it is exempt from the city government’s nightly curfew. I don’t know if the occupiers were warned about the pending eviction. But I highly doubt that any occupier freely signed a legitimate contract that set any terms for their use of the space.

When we have a space that is not being used by its owner of record but is being used by the public, isn’t it a de facto commons? I think so. Even under current US law (in some areas at least), if one abandons a property and others take up its use, under certain conditions the new users can become the owners of record. If it is a commons, or is de facto owned by the public, whatever Brookfield Office Properties Inc. has to say is null and void. The current users get to make the rules.

If everyday patrons of the park are being denied their normal ability to enjoy the space by the occupiers, then that would be a legitimate cause for action – by a legitimate arbitrator or defense force.

4. Did the owners of record ask the cops to clear it?

Fourth, did the owners of record ask the cops to clear it?

One month ago, they did just that. But they withdrew that request the next day.

According to Michael Bloomberg, mayor of the New York City government, it was his decision alone to evict the occupiers this morning.

5. Are the cops a legitimate defense force for the owners of Zucotti Park?

Fifth, are the cops a legitimate force to be used for defense against trespassers on “private” land?

No, they are not. Those who are current on Occupy Wall Street news know that the cops are agents of aggression, not defense. They have been caught pepper-spraying and otherwise initiating attacks against occupiers since practically the beginning of this occupation. An aggression force is the opposite of a defense force. An aggression force can not be taken seriously when it claims it is being used in defense. That is more akin to propaganda.

Conclusion

The occupiers and the general public who patronize Zucotti Park are the legitimate owners of the park, no matter what the local government or corporations say. The police have no legitimate authority to evict the occupiers from the park. Not even the owner of record is on record as having a pending request for any eviction.

This eviction is simple another attack by government on free people perpetrated by an aggressive police force with notorious aggressors in its ranks. There is nothing legitimate, admirable or righteous about the actions of the local government in this matter.

9 responses to “Property Issues not Clear-Cut in Occupy Wall Street Zuccotti Park Eviction”

  1. Greg Beaman says:

    George, I want to raise a practical objection to the idea that the people using a piece of property should be considered the rightful owners or at least have their right to use the property respected by others. I live in a neighborhood with an usually large number of vacant houses. Not all the owners of these houses maintain their property. As my neighborhood lies near a large rail interchange, folks who travel around on the rails will often disembark and wander through the streets until they find a suitable vacant house to stay in. In the past months there has been a rash of fires in these vacant structures. One reason is that people get cold and start a fire indoors. Another fire happened when a drug dealer decided to stash his product in the same house that squatters were in. When the squatters did not leave after being shot at, the drug dealer came back two nights later and burned the house to the ground, along with two others and damaged six other homes. In some cases, people die in these fires.

    My objection is that when people use property that does not belong to them, they have no sense of accountability to the community in which that property belongs. The folks who stay in vacant houses don’t care if they urinate, defecate, and leave trash all over the place because they will move on in a week or two. It is impossible to confront these people for their community-damaging behavior because they will inevitably disappear once “the heat is on.” No one is held accountable for their actions.

    I’m very much in support of the Occupy movement and think that the City of NY was wrong to evict #ows from Zucotti park. Public land is public land, even if some people don’t like the way that land is being used. I might not like trees but that doesn’t give the city the right to deforest Central Park because the trees are interfering with my enjoyment. My issue here is with how to deal with consequences of usufruct.

  2. Ken Hood says:

    It looks like the protesters were warned. Also, as usual, the police used excessive force (against protesters and observers) to carry out their stated goals: http://www.baratunde.com/blog/2011/11/15/re-live-occupywallst-overnight-raid-acoustic-weapons-police.html

  3. George Donnelly says:

    Greg, thanks for your comment.

    “My objection is that when people use property that does not belong to them” – let’s stop right there. Why doesn’t it belong to the squatters? They are the ones using it. If the property is abandoned, the first person to set up shop there with the intention of staying awhile is the rightful new owner.

    “they have no sense of accountability to the community” – why? Is it because they know that the government will stop them if they try to set up shop? That anything they invest in the property will be lost at some point due to aggressive government?

    Why did the fire damage so many homes? Was the fire department slow to respond? Is it a government-controlled fire department?

    Why were the buildings abandoned in the first place? Did it have anything to do with government property taxes? Government stifling of the local economy?

    The issues you raise are not consequences of usufruct. They are consequences of government aggression.

    Side note: Zucotti park is not “public” land.

    Thanks for the link, Ken. Interesting to see the Twitter stream.

  4. Greg Beaman says:

    George,

    The most recent fire, which happened on my block, damaged so many homes because the squatters in the burning structure did not alert anyone to the fire. It took a neighbor with a stake in the community riding his bike home to call the fire department. The squatters were standing on the other side of the street watching.

    The squatters are not trying to set up shop because they have no interest in setting up shop. They merely want a place to sleep for a short time until they move on. In the case of the houses burned on my block, they were used to store stolen property. The police cannot prove anyone has possession of the stolen property if it is stored in a squat house.

    In this instance, the fire department responded quickly, once they were alerted to the fire. It is a government controlled fire department.

    There are many reasons the homes are vacant. One is the byzantine nature of Napoleonic Succession laws in Louisiana. Ironically, it was Napoleonic Code which codified the right of a community to reclaim unused land for productive purposes. Some homes have been vacant since the aftermath of the Federal Flood of 2005 in New Orleans.

    Ultimately, I would prefer a home be occupied by anyone who chooses to improve it rather than unoccupied because someone chooses to let it rot away. During the French Revolution, when peasants repurposed fallow land owned by aristocrats for their own agricultural purposes, the community improved. More people had food than before. When squatters and drug dealers take over a house and burn it to the ground…it isn’t the fault of the government. How can I embody the principles of respecting everyone’s personal liberty when doing so endangers my life and property?

  5. Oh no, you stepped in it now, questioning private property? I have a feeling many people won’t like this one. I on the other hand love it. Keep up the good work. The so-called property here is suspect., but I may be less in favor of private property concepts than some.

  6. KBCraig says:

    The libertarian objection should be terms of ownership: that the park must remain open 24/7 for the public. After all, that was why the city first refused to make protestors leave the park.

    So, it seems the city asserts all authority over this park no matter what the owners want. I have no doubt that even if the owners welcomed OWS with open arms, the city would still remove them.

    THAT is what libertarians should object to.

  7. George Donnelly says:

    “The squatters are not trying to set up shop because they have no interest in setting up shop.”

    Why?

    “The police cannot prove anyone has possession of the stolen property if it is stored in a squat house.”

    Sounds like a possible failing of the state injustice system.

    “the fire department responded quickly, once they were alerted”

    In a freed society, the need to formally contact the fire department in a developed urban area may not even be a necessity.

    “When squatters and drug dealers take over a house and burn it to the ground…it isn’t the fault of the government.”

    The government absolutely has a large role play in the cause. No, a government official didn’t set the fire, but they did everything up until that point.

    We haven’t even talked about prohibition yet. I think you’re seeing my point.

    “How can I embody the principles of respecting everyone’s personal liberty when doing so endangers my life and property?”

    You can only do the best you can when an aggressive organization such as government has everyone’s hands tied behind their backs.

    Thanks Johnny.

    Kevin, my objection *is* in terms of ownership and it is a deeper ownership analysis than you get from your typical glibertarian.

    What the owners of record want is of ZERO importance if they became owners of record through the use of aggression. This is a surprisingly simple concept that makes right libertarians seize up with confusion.

  8. S. Powell says:

    Have been on-line trying to find more info re: this park & wikipedia states U. S. Steel was given right for a taller building via expemtion (or change in zoning), can’t remember if it was stated.

    But I can’t find out how Brookfield came to own it. My impression that U.S. Steel, a large corp. was given special consideration in exchange for, at least as regards to Liberty Park, a public space paid for by U. S. Steel. That is a PUBLIC PARK/SPACE, paid for by pvt. corp. in exchange for concessions via public leaders.

    In 2008, Brookfield purchased it, with John Zucotti as owner. The city honored him by naming it Zucotti Park. Exactly another case of supposedly public space, but yet privately owned. Central Park has been denied use by groups of assembly as well.

    I am seeing privitazation of land, resources, gov’t owned facilities being privitized. Here in my area of Georgia, the recylcing of lawn debris, built by taxpayers has been purchased by private companies. With resulting fewer benefits for taxpayers. We have an animal shelter here that does not nearly meet the needs for a large county as I reside in, yet on public land, they have a “Wellstar” PR Building & a Fire Museum. Yet, the size & condition of the shelter is decrepit & falls well short of necessary care of homeless, abused animals.

    But I know I digress, however, my point is, just the fact that info. is so vague, disorganized, about corporate $$ in our politics, city contracts, etc. is so evident that it is obviously deliberate.

    If you find out about Zacotti Park (Liberty Park, I like much better), pls let me know. In the interim, I’ll continue to find out what I can, & if I discover something, I’ll let you know.

  9. George Donnelly says:

    Sounds good, thanks.