New York officials began the massive task of getting lower Manhattan back to normal yesterday after cops in riot gear cleared out the remaining Occupy City Hall protesters.
The park outside City Hall will be on lockdown for weeks as clean-up crews move in to clear the huge amount of debris and graffiti from nearby buildings and statues.
During his daily briefing, the mayor said NYPD officers were sent in because the protest movement which began a month ago had been growing smaller. He also said he was not influenced by President Donald Trump’s threats to send in federal agents but was a health and safety issue they had been looking at for days.
‘What we saw change over the last few weeks was the gathering there got smaller and smaller, was less and less about protests and more and more became an area where homeless folks were gathering. I said repeatedly 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. So it was time to take action,’ de Blasio said.
The officers moved in at 3.40am yesterday, pushing around 70 remaining occupants north on Centre Street to Foley Square, where the crowd began to disperse.
Police said they gave the occupants a 10 minute warning before the Defund the Police activists ‘left voluntarily’.
But the protesters left behind scribblings of graffiti lining the floor, walls and the Brooklyn City Hall subway station after the month-long demonstration, as well as some more unsanitary reminders of their stay.
Yesterday officers were busy throwing the tents that the activists had been sleeping into garbage trucks.
And cleaning crews were washing the graffiti from the walls and floor around City Hall.
A Manhattan Transport Authority boss revealed to the New York Post that the protesters had turned the subway gates, which they had camped around, into a toilet.
The MTA chief said: ‘All the people who were here were going to the bathroom in the vents.
‘They were s******g and p*****g in the vents. They were using this as a facility, as a bathroom. It’s unbelievable what’s in there.’
A group of transit workers have been tasked with removing the brown sludge from between the subway grates, from near the Citi Bike rack and on the plaza on the corner of Chambers and Centre streets.
An MTA spokeswoman said a vacuum team was deployed to remove everything at the entrance to the subway, adding that ‘nothing got onto the trains.’ The defecation was accompanied by cigarette butts and other trash.
Anthony Lupo, 31, who lives nearby, said he saw people from the group relieving themselves ‘right out there in public for everyone to see.’
‘The graffiti is just another manifestation of the city in decline,’ Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said yesterday.
In total, seven people were taken into custody during Wednesday night’s operation to remove the squatters but charges are still pending.
One officer was injured after being struck by a brick, police said. Whether any protesters suffered injuries could not immediately be confirmed by the department.
After successfully moving the crowd on, the officers then began to take down the makeshift tents and remnants of the encampment, which first began on June 23 as a protest for police reform in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
Video footage captured the moment the officers, donning heavy gear, moved in on protesters who were heard chanting as they approached.
ABC 7 observed two people being taken into custody. One man also appeared to have suffered a medical condition and was taken away in an ambulance.
The NYPD temporarily shut down the near-by Brooklyn Bridge while they carried out the operation.
The goal of the Occupy City Hall demonstration – similar to the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 – had been to secure at least a $1 billion cut from the NYPD budget.
After the reform was approved by City Hall earlier this month, and signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio last week, organizers of the protests and many of its members left. Only a few stayed, with the majority of the crowd made up by homeless people.
De Blasio’s administration has long stated homeless encampments are no longer permitted in the city, and had been closely monitoring the encampment to determine if it was still operating as some form of protest.