The city cleared out Zuccotti Park in the wee hours of this morning, effectively ending the nearly two-month-old Occupy Wall Street occupation and destroying much of the occupiers’ gear. The Voice arrived on the scene around 1:30 a.m. to a confusing scene, as cops had already barricaded every entrance to the park. We identified ourselves as press to no avail.
Although we couldn’t get inside the park, we were able to reconstruct what happened inside during the period in which NYPD were moving into the park and clearing it. The park was held by 50-60 core occupiers who linked arms in a circle around the kitchen tent as a group of six-eight protesters remained inside the tents, locked together by the neck by “u-locks,” according to occupier James Molenda, 32, who was inside the camp for nearly the entirety of the raid.
According to Molenda, it became evident to the campers that the city was planning a raid before midnight, when they saw a large number of cops heading toward the park.
“We got into action,” he said. “We were blocking passageways and making sure non-arrestables could get out.”
Some people left, and some stayed. The nucleus of the resistance was the kitchen tent, where 50-60 arrestables remained and waited for the police.
Police entered the park and told occupiers to leave or risk arrest. They began dismantling all of the camping equipment; according to Molenda, “there were tens of thousands of dollars worth of broken or totally wasted tents and sleeping bags and stuff.” We’ve heard reports that the tents were ripped apart with box cutters to render them unusable.
“It was amazing,” Molenda said. “They really treated every speck of anything like it was total garbage.”
Occupiers waited for the axe to fall for about 45 minutes, as NYPD displayed sound cannons (but didn’t deploy them) and made repeated announcements to leave the park.
After a point, the NYPD moved in and began forcibly removing people from the park, though not necessarily arresting all of them. DCPI told us they don’t have an estimate for total numbers of arrests yet, but we’ve heard unconfirmed reports that the number is around 70. According to Molenda, the arrests were mostly peaceable and “no punches were thrown on either side.” [Update 12:54 p.m.: The city puts the arrest count at around 200, Mayor Bloomberg said today.]
Eventually, all the occupiers apart from the core group locked together in the kitchen tent were removed or arrested; cops used pepper spray and also just dragged people out. The kitchen group were the last to be removed, but as of now, the park is completely clear.
The office of Mayor Bloomberg, who will be addressing the situation at 8 a.m., released a statement that reads in part:
Some have argued to allow the protestors to stay in the park indefinitely – others have suggested we just wait for winter and hope the cold weather drove the protestors away – but inaction was not an option. I could not wait for someone in the park to get killed or to injure another first responder before acting. Others have cautioned against action because enforcing our laws might be used by some protestors as a pretext for violence – but we must never be afraid to insist on compliance with our laws.
The situation outside of the park was less clear-cut. The Voice was repeatedly blocked from crossing the street and was at one point confined to a small area of Broadway above Dey Street, where police penned in a group of people and arrested some. We were able to break free of a cop and crossed the street. When we got to the other side, an officer grabbed us by the arm and threw us across the sidewalk. We had identified ourselves as press repeatedly.
A sizeable group of maybe a couple hundred headed north, having received signals from the Tactical group to go to Washington Square Park. The plan fell into disarray on the way there, as police successfully splintered the group into smaller crews. The march did not make it to Washington Square Park.
By around 5 a.m., the Zuccotti occupiers had made it to Foley Square, where they held a General Assembly and discussed other options (including an attempt to re-occupy Zuccotti Park this same day, though that is unlikely as of right now). At 9 a.m., there will be an action at Canal and Sixth Avenue; the Voice will be there and report back.