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Police evict Wall Street protesters from NY park
Police ordered protesters in New York to quit their camp near Wall Street Tuesday, but said they would allow them to return once it had been cleaned. The protesters are planning a mass march on Thursday to mark their two-month anniversary.
AP – Hundreds of police officers in riot gear before dawn Tuesday raided the New York City park where the Occupy Wall Street protests began, evicting and arresting hundreds from the epicenter of the worldwide movement protesting corporate greed and economic inequality.
Hours later, the status of the now-empty park remained uncertain as the National Lawyers Guild obtained a court order allowing the protesters to return with their tents. A state court judge was hearing arguments on the legality of the surprise eviction.
At a news conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the evacuation of the two-month-old encampment was conducted in the middle of the night “to reduce the risk of confrontation in the park, and to minimize disruption to the surrounding neighborhood.”
Hundreds of police officers surrounded the park overnight in riot gear, holding plastic shields and batons which in some cases were used on protesters. Police flooded the park with klieg lights and used bull horns to announce that everyone had to leave. Video shot by a television helicopter and released by The Associated Press showed hundreds of people surging against each other in the confusion.
“I was bleeding profusely. They shoved a lot of people’s faces into the ground,” said protester Max Luisdaniel Santos, 31, looking shaken. He pulled open his cheek to show where his teeth had cut into flesh. He said he lost his shoes in the scuffle but wasn’t arrested.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said around 200 people were arrested, including dozens who tried to resist by linking arms at the center of the park or chaining themselves together with bicycle locks. Hours later, Associated Press writer Karen Matthews was taken into custody along with AP photographer Seth Wenig and Daily News reporter Matthew Lysiak while covering the protests.
As the workday began, hundreds of the protesters marched through lower Manhattan, looking for a new space to gather. Some chanted, “This is what democracy looks like” and others chanted: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, our billionaire mayor has got to go.”
The park itself remained surrounded by police barricades.
Protesters in New York fought back the threat of a similar sweep weeks ago, but momentum against the camps appears to be growing as authorities across the U.S. grow impatient with the self-proclaimed leaderless movement and its lack of a focused demand.
“From the beginning, I have said that the City had two principal goals: guaranteeing public health and safety, and guaranteeing the protesters’ First Amendment rights” to free speech, Bloomberg said in a statement. “But when those two goals clash, the health and safety of the public and our first responders must be the priority.”
The city told protesters they could come back after the cleaning, but under new tougher rules, including no tents, sleeping bags or tarps, which would effectively put an end to the encampment if enforced.
Concerns about health and safety issues at Occupy Wall Street camps around the U.S. have intensified, and protesters have been ordered to take down their shelters, adhere to curfews and relocate so that parks can be cleaned.
Police have made similiar sweeps and arrests in recent days in Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon. Two camps had fatal shootings last week, including a suicide, and bodies were found at two other camps.
“At the end of the day, if this movement is only tied to Liberty Plaza, we are going to lose,” said Sandra Nurse, one of the New York protest organizers, referring to the park by the demonstrators’ nickname for it. “Right now the most important thing is coming together as a body and just reaffirm why we’re here in the first place.”
The police sweep came as the movement in New York was at its most vulnerable. A rift had been growing in recent weeks between those sleeping in the park and the movement’s power players, most of whom no longer lived there. Instead, those who planned marches and rallies held meetings in donated office space, in skyscrapers like the ones housing the bankers they were protesting.
Elsewhere in the U.S., anti-Wall Street activists converged at the University of California, Berkeley on Tuesday for another attempt to set up an Occupy camp, less than a week after police arrested dozens of protesters who tried to pitch tents on campus. They will be joined by Occupy Oakland activists who were cleared by police from a tent city before dawn Monday.
In London, authorities said they were resuming legal action to evict a protest camp outside St. Paul’s Cathedral after talks with the demonstrators stalled.
More than 200 tents have been pitched outside the iconic church for a month in a protest inspired by the New York demonstration.
In Toronto, eviction notices were delivered Tuesday to Occupy protesters who have been camped in a downtown park since mid-October.