Seth Wenig, Associated Press
NEW YORK — Hundreds of police officers in riot gear raided the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City in the pre-dawn darkness Tuesday, evicted hundreds of demonstrators and demolished the tent city that was the epicenter of a movement protesting what participants call corporate greed and economic inequality.
The police action began around 1 a.m. and lasted several hours as officers with plastic shields and batons pushed the protesters from their base at Zuccotti Park. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said around 200 people were arrested, including dozens who tried to resist the eviction by linking arms in a tight circle at the center of the park. A member of the City Council was among those arrested during the sweep.
Tents, sleeping bags and equipment were carted away, and by 4:30 a.m., the park was empty. It wasn't clear what would happen next to the demonstration, though the new enforcement of rules banning tents, sleeping bags or tarps would effectively end an encampment that started in mid-September.
"At the end of the day, if this movement is only tied to Liberty Plaza, we are going to lose. We're going to lose," said Sandra Nurse, one of the organizers, referring to the park by the nickname the demonstrators have given it. "Right now the most important thing is coming together as a body and just reaffirm why we're here in the first place."
Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan as the workday began, chanting and looking for a new space to gather. A state court judge called an 11:30 a.m. hearing on the legality of the eviction, following an emergency appeal by the National Lawyers Guild, and issued a temporary restraining order barring the city from preventing protesters from re-entering the park.
As of midmorning, though, the park remained surrounded by police barricades and officers keeping everyone out. A few dozen demonstrators sat on the sidewalk just outside the police line, waiting. In the meantime, workers used power washers to blast the plaza clean.
The surprise action came two days short of the two-month anniversary of the encampment. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he ordered the sweep because health and safety conditions and become "intolerable" in the crowded plaza.
"From the beginning, I have said that the city has two principal goals: guaranteeing public health and safety, and guaranteeing the protesters' First Amendment rights," he said. "But when those two goals clash, the health and safety of the public and our first responders must be the priority."
He said that people would be allowed to return as soon as this morning, but that the city would begin enforcing the rules set up by the park's private owners banning camping equipment.
That left demonstrators wondering what to do next. There was talk among some Tuesday of trying to occupy another park or plaza, but there are no immediate plans to do so, Nurse said.
The eviction began in the dead of night, as police officers arrived by the hundreds and set up powerful klieg lights to illuminate the block.
Officers handed out notices from Brookfield Office Properties, the park's owner, and the city saying that the plaza had to be cleared because it had become unsanitary and hazardous. A commander announced over a bullhorn that everyone had to leave. Many did, carrying their belongings with them. Others tried to make a stand, even chaining themselves together with bicycle locks.
In contrast to the scene weeks ago in Oakland, where a similar eviction turned chaotic and violent, the police action was comparatively orderly. But it wasn't entirely bloodless.
"The cops hit my legs with a baton," said demonstrator Max Luisdaniel Santos, 31, an unemployed construction worker, pulling up his pants to show some swollen scars on his calf. "Then they shoved my face into the ground."
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