Hundreds of New York City police officers cleared Zuccotti Park of the Occupy Wall Street protesters early Tuesday, arresting dozens of people there after warning them that the nearly two-month-old camp would be “cleared and restored” before the morning and that any demonstrator who did not leave would be arrested.
The protesters, about 200 of whom have been staying in the park overnight, initially resisted with chants of “Whose park? Our park!” as officers began moving in and tearing down tents. The protesters rallied around an area known as the kitchen, near the middle of the park and began building barricades with tables and pieces of scrap wood.
Over the next two hours, dozens of protesters left the park, while a core group of about 100 dug in around the food area. Many locked arms and defied police orders to leave. By 3 a.m., dozens of helmet-clad officers, watched over by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, closed in on the remaining protesters. They pulled them out one protester at a time and handcuffed them. Most were walked out without incident.
The Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, told The Associated Press that 70 people had been arrested in the park, including some who had chained themselves together.
The officers had gathered between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges earlier and rode in vans to the one-square-block park. They entered about 1 a.m.
As they did, dozens of protesters linked arms and shouted “No retreat, no surrender,” “This is our home” and “Barricade!”
The mayor’s office sent out a message on Twitter at 1:19 a.m. saying: “Occupants of Zuccotti should temporarily leave and remove tents and tarps. Protesters can return after the park is cleared.” Fliers handed out by the police at the private park on behalf of the park’s owner, Brookfield Properties, and the city, spelled out the same message.
A number of other arrests were reported just outside the park, as police tried to move supporters of the protesters away from the park. Details were not immediately available. There were several additional arrests after the park was cleared when protesters who refused to leave a nearby street were taken into custody.
Early Tuesday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg issued a statement explaining the reasoning behind the action. He spoke about the need to balance the right of free speech with public safety and health concerns.
“I have become increasingly concerned – as had the park’s owner, Brookfield Properties – that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protestors and to the surrounding community,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “We have been in constant contact with Brookfield and yesterday they requested that the City assist it in enforcing the no sleeping and camping rules in the park. But make no mistake – the final decision to act was mine.”
Mr. Bloomberg stressed that the protesters would still be able to use the park, as long as they complied with the rules, that ban things such as tents and sleeping bags.
“Protestors have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags,” he said. “Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments.”
The police move came as organizers put out word on their Web site that they planned to “shut down Wall Street” with a demonstration on Thursday to commemorate the completion of two months of the beginning of the encampment, which has spurred similar demonstrations across the country.
The move also came hours after a small demonstration at City Hall on Monday by opponents of the protest, including local residents and merchants, some of whom urged the mayor to clear out the park.
Before the police moved in, they set up a battery of klieg lights and aimed them into the park. A police captain, wearing a helmet, walked down Liberty Street and announced: “The city has determined that the continued occupation of Zuccotti Park poses an increasing health and fire safety hazard.”
The captain ordered the protesters to “to immediately remove all private property” and said that if they interfered with the police operation, they would be arrested. Property that was not removed would be taken to a sanitation garage, the police said.
Some of the protesters grabbed their possessions. “They’re not getting our tents down,” one man shouted. People milled around, and some headed to the edges of the park.
By 1:45 a.m., dozens of officers moved through the park, some bearing plastic shields and wearing helmets. They removed tents and bedding materials, putting them on the sidewalk. Some protesters could be seen leaving the park with their belongings, but a core group of more than 100 hunkered down at the encampment’s kitchen area, linking arms, waving flags, and singing and chanting their refusal to leave the park.
They sang “We Shall Overcome,” and chanted at the officers to “disobey your orders.”
“If they come in, we’re not going anywhere,” said Chris Johnson, 32, who sat with other remaining protesters near the food area. He said that the protest “has opened up a dialogue that hasn’t existed since I’ve been alive.”
About 2 a.m., police officers began using a vehicle equipped with a powerful speaker to issue their orders. City sanitation workers tossed protesters’ belongings into metal bins, while some protesters dug in at the center of the park by using heavy bicycle chains to bind themselves to park trees and to each other. Some donned gas masks and goggles.
But by 3 a.m., the police closed in on the remaining protesters and began arresting them.
About 200 supporters of the protesters arrived early Tuesday after hearing that the park was being cleared. They were prevented from getting within a block of the park by a police barricade. There were a number of arrests after some scuffles between the two sides, but no details were immediately available. After being forced up Broadway by the police, some of the supporters decided to march several blocks to Foley Square.
Video from ABC News
Several Occupy Wall Street protest encampments across the country have been cleared by police after problems have occurred, including ones in cities like Oakland, Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore.
A handful of protesters first unrolled sleeping bags and blankets in Zuccotti Park on the night of Sept. 17, but in the weeks that followed, the park became densely packed with tents and small tarp villages.
The protest spawned others and attracted celebrities and well-known performers. It became a tourist attraction, inspired more than $500,000 in donations and gained the support of labor unions and elected officials while creating division within City Hall and the Police Department.
Mr. had struggled with how to respond. He repeatedly made clear that he does not support the demonstrators’ arguments or their tactics, but he has also defended their right to protest and in recent days and weeks has sounded increasingly exasperated, especially in the wake of growing complaints from neighbors about how the protest has disrupted the neighborhood and hurt local businesses.
Mr. Bloomberg met daily with several deputies and commissioners, and as more business owners complained and editorials lampooned him as gutless, his patience wore thin.
Link to original article from The New York Times
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