Nearly a month after protesters started camping out outside New York City Hall to call for defunding of the police department, uniformed officers with riot shields moved in to clear out tents and people early Wednesday in a planned operation.
Lines of officers in heavy gear were seen at Lafayette Street and Leonard near the criminal courthouses. Some were telling protesters and others on the street to move back as the swarm of cops moved in. Officials said those in the encampment were given a ten-minute warning before the clear-out began sometime before 4 a.m. .
Protesters say their tents, tarps and other belongings were trashed by police.
Thirteen people were taken into custody during the encampment clearing, the NYPD said. Only one person was expected to be arrested -- someone who allegedly threw a brick that hit an officer -- while the others would likely get summonses, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said. Mayor Bill de Blasio said he, Shea and others made the final decision to execute the dismantling operation late Tuesday.
After some clashes with cops, the protesters left shortly after dawn. Then the police left as well. The cop hit by the brick wasn't hurt, nor was anyone else, Shea said.
"We did have attorneys. We gave verbal warnings. We allowed people to leave if they wanted to leave without incident, and that was fine," Shea said. The commissioner added there was “no real use of force,” though he said there was “some tugging and back and forth.” Shea went on to call the episode “one for the win column ... another step towards getting back to normalcy here in New York.”
But some protesters disputed Shea’s account, saying they didn’t hear a warning before police poured in, threw people’s possessions away and pushed them around.
The area is expected to be on lockdown for "several weeks" while graffiti and such is cleaned up, police said Wednesday morning. A team of city workers arrived during the day carrying mops, brushes, vacuums and scrapers to begin erasing spray-painted messages and slogans, like some found on the steps of Tweed Courthouse.
A day earlier, de Blasio said the city doesn't allow encampments and the situation outside City Hall was being assessed on a daily basis.
"There is a balance we always strike between the right to protest and especially public safety. And I always put public safety first while respecting constitutional rights," he said, but the decision "will be made by the NYPD."
On Wednesday morning, when a reporter asked De Blasio during his daily briefing how the situation was different compared to when he was Public Advocate and was against then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg clearing out Zuccotti Park in a similar fashion, De Blasio said: "I think it is a very different situation. The reality here is that, again, this has become less and less about protest, more and more homeless individuals who were gathered there," adding the city does not allow homeless encampments.
“We do always respect the right to protest, but we have to think about health and safety first, and the health and safety issues were growing,” said de Blasio. “So it was time to take action.”
People involved in the camp have said it served in part to demonstrate that the city was failing the homeless.
Scores of supporters of the Occupy City Hall demonstration gathered Wednesday evening in a thunderstorn at a different New York park to re-sound their calls for stopping funding of the police department and ultimately abolishing it.
Aaron Gamman said he had been at the encampment every day since it started, though he had gone home for the night by the time the raid happened.
In recent days, “it’s just been a spot for homeless people and a way for them to get food and clothes,” the 20-year-old film student and native New Yorker said. “The fact that the NYPD handled it with no care just goes to show why we were protesting them."
Organizers called the encampment “Occupy City Hall," a nod to the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement a few blocks away in Zuccotti Park, and they have been out on the grassy area outside City Hall since June 24. They said they would be there until Mayor Bill de Blasio committed to slash at least $1 billion from the NYPD's $6 billion budget and redistribute the funds to other social services like education, healthcare and homeless services before the budget's deadline on June 30.
Weeks after the $88.1 billion city budget passed with some cuts to police funding, the protesters remained because they say the cuts didn't meet their demands.
NYC Threatens Legal Action if Trump Sends Federal Officers to Patrol
New York City will go to court if necessary to stop the Trump Administration from deploying federal law enforcement to the city as it has done in Portland, de Blasio said Wednesday.
"It is way too much about the politics of the moment, I believe unfortunately the president is using this as a photo op for his own political needs, not as an act of addressing complicated matters in our city," De Blasio said.
"If we see these federal officers on our streets, then we will see the Trump Administration in court to stop it from happening."
The president sent federal law enforcement to the Oregon city to quell protests, a move that has led to violent clashes and calls from mayors across the country to keep a similar federal presence off their streets. De Blasio said he sent a letter Wednesday to Attorney General William Barr and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf formally asking them not to send officers to New York City.
On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that he spoke with President Donald Trump about federal officers and that he is also concerned about increase in crime. Cuomo said he thinks the situation could be managed by the state if there is a public safety emergency and that he's prepared to do so without federal involvement.
Cuomo said Trump told him by phone that he wouldn’t deploy extra federal law enforcement forces to New York for now, and that the two leaders would speak before any such action happened.
When asked about his argument that the state might step in to reinforce the city, Cuomo didn't say whether that meant more state police or troopers with city precincts, instead vaguely saying that "if there is an emergency, we can bring in additional resources or do what we need to do."
For his part, De Blasio said the decision to clear the encampment was not done out of fear that the federal government would come and do it, rather saying "this was something that had been discussed over several weeks...and growing concern over health and safety."
"We were waiting to really understand the facts and the specifics," the mayor went on to say.