Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Police cleared defiant Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park

Lone protester stands stunned as police around her begin dismantling the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park early Tuesday morning.

Lone protester stands stunned as police around her begin dismantling the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park early Tuesday morning.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly watches as cops clear out the park.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly watches as cops clear out the park.

The ouster of the occupiers began with a flash of blinding light.

Hundreds of cops in riot gear had been massing in the shadows around Zuccotti Park, encircling with a blue ring of steel the protesters who had been camped there for nearly two months.

Dozens of NYPD Emergency Service Unit trucks had lined South St. near Pike Slip, waiting for the order to move in. Sanitation crews had moved in huge metal bins in anticipation of the cleanup.

Then, shortly before 1 a.m., with Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Chief of Department Joseph Esposito looking on, the ESU trucks began rumbling down Broadway, their powerful klieg lights illuminating the park like a movie set.

The die was cast.

Blinking in the glare, many of the 200 or so protesters — some roused from their sleep — appeared stunned when police officers with megaphones began ordering them out of the park.

“All property, including personal property, must be removed immediately,” they read from a script. “This is a health hazard. If you refuse to leave the park, you will be subject to arrest.”

Moving at lightning speed, cops flipped over tents in waves to make sure nobody was hiding beneath the tarps. Some of the protesters quickly grabbed their gear and scrammed.

But the hard-core refuseniks — a group of about 150 — moved to the middle of the park, where they locked arms and chanted, “Whose park? Our park” and “We’re not going nowhere.”

They were drowned out by the sound of sanitation crews dismantling the encampment and dragging off mattresses, blankets, tables, chairs and guitars.

“Those who were arrested wanted to be arrested,” said Kelly. “There was an awful lot of taunting and getting into police officers’ faces.”

When it was over, Zuccotti Park was clear for the first time in two months, some 220 people were behind bars, and the NYPD faced fresh criticism from angry protesters who accused them of heavy-handed tactics.

Among those arrested were eight reporters covering the unfolding drama, including one for the Daily News.

Eager to avoid, or at least limit, the violence that other cities experienced while trying to oust Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, the NYPD hatched its own battle plan in secrecy, sources said.

Last Wednesday, several hundred cops took part in crowd control drills on Randalls Island. But the officers who took part in the siege of Zuccotti Park had no inkling anything was afoot until just hours before it happened, sources said.

Most were in the last hour of their shifts when they were ordered to report to lower Manhattan with their “hats and bats,” which is cop-speak for helmets and batons.

Hoping to catch the protesters by surprise, police brass had also kept the community affairs cops who regularly interacted with the protesters in the dark, sources said.

The NYPD chose 1 a.m. to strike because it was the quietest time in the encampment.

Kelly, dressed in a dark suit, crisp white shirt and pink tie, observed — but did not direct — the eviction, sources said.

Before the cops began arresting protesters about 3 a.m., police removed the reporters, so what happened in the ensuing hours is based largely on witness testimony.

Protester Matt Baldwin said the cops went to town on a group of protesters who had lashed themselves together with a rope.

“They bashed their knuckles with the billy clubs and put them on the ground and pulled them out," said Baldwin, 30, of Boston, who escaped with his 26-year-old wife, Liz, as the evictions were underway. “My wife is pregnant; I had to get her out of there.”

Many protesters ran head-long into other police officers who had sealed off the subway stations around the park and cut off all access to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Scuffles broke out between cops and about 100 demonstrators at 1:45 a.m., a block north of the park near the intersection of Broadway and Cortlandt St.

“Shame!” the protesters chanted. “This is a peaceful protest!”

Among those arrested was City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan), who was reportedly bleeding from his forehead when he was taken into custody. Kelly said Rodriguez was trying to get through police lines and was unaware he had been hurt.

By 4 a.m., police were still battling a handful of stubborn resisters in the park who refused to give up without a fight, but for all practical purposes, the park was cleared.

Meanwhile, a large group of protesters regrouped in nearby Foley Square and held what they called a General Assembly to decide what to do next.

By 4:30 a.m., another large crowd had gathered at Broadway and Pine St, and the most defiant climbed on police cruisers and dared cops to arrest them. Others let the air out of the cruisers’ tires. Forty minutes later, the police had enough and ordered the crowd to disperse.

When they refused, officers moved in and were bombarded with food, water bottles — and even a wooden plank — by the angry demonstrators, police said.

Those who weren’t arrested retreated to Foley Square. And by 8 a.m., that group was on the move again, this time to a new encampment at Canal St. and Sixth Ave.

As dawn broke, commuters arriving downtown found Zuccotti Park cleared of demonstrators, and several stopped to tell the cops, “Good job.” 

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