New York Mayor Bloomberg defends clearing of Occupy Wall Street
New York's mayor on Tuesday defended the pre-dawn clearing of the Occupy Wall Street encampment, saying "inaction was not an option" as the nearly 2-month-old set-up became packed with tents and concerns grew that fires and other hazards could erupt.
Police in riot gear moved into Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan shortly after officers handed out notices to protesters at about 1 a.m. warning them the park was about to be cleared. It said residents could return after a cleanup but that they would no longer be permitted to set up tents, bring in sleeping bags or camp in the park 24/7.
“Protesters have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags. Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement, promising that the privately owned park would reopen later Tuesday. Police said they had cleared it by about 4:30 a.m.
Throughout the night, a police helicopter could be heard thundering above the area. Live video showed some protesters pulling down their own tents and leaving, but it also showed police dumping tents and other belongings into a huge pile to be taken away. Protesters were told they could retrieve their belongings later.
Bloomberg said the city acted in coordination with Brookfield Properties, which owns Zuccotti Park and which until Tuesday had let protesters remain there. "At Brookfield’s request, members of the NYPD and Sanitation Department assisted in removing any remaining tents and sleeping bags. This action was taken at this time of day to reduce the risk of confrontation in the park, and to minimize disruption to the surrounding neighborhood," Bloomberg said.
"Unfortunately, the park was becoming a place where people came not to protest, but rather to break laws, and in some cases, to harm others," said Bloomberg, an apparent reference to the recent arrest of a man on sexual-assault charges. "The majority of protesters have been peaceful and responsible. But an unfortunate minority have not been -– and as the number of protesters has grown, this has created an intolerable situation."
The sudden move followed similar efforts in other cities -- notably Portland, Ore., and Oakland -- to end Occupy protests, and it comes on the heels of a protest Monday outside New York City Hall by local business owners complaining that Bloomberg was letting protesters destroy their operations.
A protester named Dave Harold, interviewed on the local all-news TV channel NY1, said he saw "a ton of cops in riot gear" as the raid began and that he joined a core group that refused initially to leave. "A lot of us were 'no, we're not leaving.' And then they just started pushing in and ... slashing up tents," Harold said.
Another woman identified only as a protester said a police officer laughed and said "happy trails" as she and a friend headed out of the park. She said they went to a nearby McDonald's to use the bathroom but were shooed away by police.
Police said they had arrested about 70 protesters, including some who chained themselves together to try to prevent being arrested, the Associated Press reported.
Occupy Wall Street protesters told people to move to Foley Square, outside the courthouses in Lower Manhattan where scores of demonstrators arrested in an early Occupy Wall Street march were due to appear before a judge later today.
-- Tina Susman in New York
Photo: Sanitation workers clean up Zuccotti Park, home of Occupy Wall Street, after a pre-dawn raid cleared out protesters. Credit: Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images