06 February 2012

Occupy Pittsburgh ordered to leave Mellon Green

Photo Courtesy of Larry Roberts, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Dana Giallonardo, Juris Staff Writer
If you turn your head any which way while passing the “Mellon Green” Park at 500 Grant Street in Downtown Pittsburgh, a park owned by BNY Mellon Bank, you’ll see what was once a beautiful little green space often enjoyed by lunchers and strollers alike, is now strewn with tents and barricaded with chain-link fencing. This will soon be put to a court-ordered end.

On Thursday, February 2, BNY Mellon’s motion for a preliminary injunction against Occupy Pittsburgh was granted. In a 23-page opinion written by Court of Common Pleas Judge Christine A. Ward, the Occupiers were given three days to vacate the private property.

In response to the news of eviction, as printed in the Post Gazette, a lawyer representing Occupy Pittsburgh claimed that the park, which was re-named the “People’s Park” by the group, is a designated urban open space, built with public subsidies and intended to be used for the public’s enjoyment. But not according to Judge Ward, who opined that even if the park was considered a public space in the spring, summer and fall, the space is closed every winter, thus designating it as BNY Mellon’s private property. It is unclear whether or not Occupy Pittsburgh will choose to appeal.

BNY Mellon initiated the eviction lawsuit in December in an attempt to remove the Occupiers from their property before the winter months. The protesters refused to leave, claiming that they were “winterizing” their encampment and planning to stay. The protesters also refused service of papers notifying them of the lawsuit, again putting BNY Mellon in court. The bank requested that they be allowed to serve the protesters with an alternative form of service, and sheriffs posted notices of the lawsuit in and around the camp. Finally, BNY Mellon filed for an injunction seeking removal. Judge Ward allowed the protestors to remain in their camp over the course of the trial.

The Occupy Pittsburgh movement began “occupying” the park this past October. The movement, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and one of many Occupy movements across the country, began as a protest against economic inequality and a call for true democratic mobilization.

The movement as a whole ignited a media firestorm, indulging Americans with a polarized option to choose to side with the “1 percenters” or to be a part of the 99 percent and rise against. Everyone had an opinion about the protest, the politics, and where they themselves stood based on their own pocketbooks. But, Americans eventually went back to work, leaving most cities with the challenge of how they were to deal with their respective Occupy movements, which took over both public and private spaces alike. Some protests even ended in extreme violence.

Without attacking the underlying goal of the movement, and a person’s obvious First Amendment right to free speech, what was at some point an idealistic strike against corporate greed, a nostalgia to Vietnam-like protests of days gone by, soon became, to be quite frank, an annoying attempt at making oneself heard. In Pittsburgh, not only was the Mellon Green now unsuitable for working patrons, it seemed best to divert the park altogether in order to prevent heckling from protestors on the walk to and from work. And who could forget the Occupiers’ attempt at occupying Target in East Liberty?

If the Occupiers have not vacated the premises within the time period allotted, BNY Mellon would have to file a request for eviction. If a request for eviction were to be granted, the City of Pittsburgh Police, which has remained amicable with Occupy Pittsburgh, would then go in and remove the protesters.

According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, the Occupiers said they would not resist eviction with violence of any kind. If anything, the Occupiers said, they were going to “RickRoll” – that is, to play Rick Astley’s 1987 hit “Never Going to Give You Up” at high volume.

Dana Giallonardo is a Staff Writer for JURIS. She earned her undergraduate degree from Lehigh University in 2010, where she majored in Journalism and minored in Communications and Creative Writing. While at Lehigh, Dana was an Assistant Editor on the Brown and White student newspaper. Dana will graduate in June of 2013 and can be reached at giallonardod@duq.edu.