NBC New York
Hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters returned to Zuccotti Park Tuesday when the barricades were removed, but the crowd dwindled by morning.
A handful of Occupy Wall Street protesters did their best to occupy Zuccotti Park on Wednesday, a day after metal barricades surrounding it came down.
"We need to have a symbolic presence," said Ned Merrill, 52, a blanket draped over his shoulder.
He spoke as workers for Brookfield Office Properties, which owns the plaza, maneuvered around the scattered protesters with steam cleaners. The barricades that came down Tuesday were chained together and neatly stacked at the north end of the park.
On Tuesday, about 300 protesters filled Zuccotti after the barricades were taken down.
Police spokesman Paul Browne said the NYPD and Brookfield had been talking about removing the barriers last week. The decision was made to remove them Tuesday because officials felt they were no longer necessary, Browne said.
Merrill said it's important for at least a few protesters to be at Zuccotti at all times. He said he's been there from midnight to about 10 a.m. most nights since Dec. 1.
"Most people in America know that something is wrong," he said. "Much of what is wrong is that money owns the political process."
Robert Segal, who is 47 and works in a wine store, also spent Tuesday night at Zuccotti.
"The rest of the world want a place where they can come down and join Occupy Wall Street at critical moments," he said.
Tents and sleeping bags have been banned from Zuccotti Park since a Nov. 15 police raid evicted protesters who had been sleeping there since Sept. 17.
Merrill said security guards have prevented him from sitting on a piece of plastic foam when he spends the night there. They told him it was considered bedding, he said.
On Monday, civil rights groups filed a complaint with the city's buildings department saying the barricades were a violation of city zoning law.
The granite plaza a few blocks from the New York Stock Exchange is a privately owned public park. It is required to be open 24 hours under city zoning laws.