Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is suing the city of New York for not returning or damaging almost 2,800 books. The books were seized when police raided Zuccotti Park, the main encampment for the Occupy movement, in the early hours of November 15, 2011.
When the park was raided, at least 3,600 books were taken from the "People's Library." Only 1,000 were recovered, but 200 of these were so badly damaged that they were illegible. The books seized include texts on economics, politics, histories of resistance, and even Mayor Michael Bloomberg's own autobiography. All in all, OWS is seeking at least $48,000 in damages: $47,000 in compensation for seized books and equipment and $1,000 in punitive damages.
Writing on the official blog for the People's Library, OWS librarians argue that the city of New York's actions were unconstitutional:
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.
Or as Norman Siegel, one of the lawyers representing OWS phrased it, "You don't nuke books."
Last Thursday, OWS officially filed a lawsuit in a federal court against not only the city of New York, but also Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, and the officials and city employees involved with the raid. Meanwhile, OWS considers itself an unincorporated association, with the lawsuit filed by two "de facto treasurers" and members of the OWS Library Working Group. For Siegel, "This is a David vs. Goliath lawsuit. We're confident that we will prevail."
However, for many Occupiers, the lawsuit symbolizes much more than financial compensation. As the OWS librarians note:
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.
While the physical People's Library is no more, its catalog still exists online, thanks to a donation from LibraryThing. In addition, pictures of the Library before the city's raid are available online.
Earlier this month, David Wilson reported that Twitter is resisting a New York judge's order to relinquish an OWS protester's personal account information.