Occupy Wall Street protesters swept from Zuccotti Park
Hundreds of police officers in riot gear before dawn Tuesday raided the New York City park where the Occupy Wall Street protests began, evicting and arresting hundreds from the epicenter of the worldwide movement protesting corporate greed andeconomic inequality.
Hours later, the status of the now-empty park remained uncertain as the National Lawyers Guild obtained a court order allowing the protesters to return with their tents. A state court judge was hearing arguments on the legality of the surprise eviction.
At a news conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the evacuation of the two-month-old encampment was conducted in the middle of the night "to reduce the risk of confrontation in the park, and to minimize disruption to the surrounding neighborhood."
Hundreds of police officers surrounded the park overnight in riot gear, holding plastic shields and batons which in some cases were used on protesters. Police flooded the park with klieg lights and used bull horns to announce that everyone had to leave. Video shot by a television helicopter and released by The Associated Press showed hundreds of people surging against each other in theconfusion.
"I was bleeding profusely. They shoved a lot of people's faces into the ground," said protester Max Luisdaniel Santos, 31, looking shaken. He pulled open his cheek to show where his teeth had cut into flesh. He said he lost his shoes in the scuffle but wasn't arrested.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said around 200 people were arrested, including dozens who tried to resist by linking arms at the center of the park or chaining themselves together with bicycle locks.
As the workday began, hundreds of the protesters marched through lower Manhattan, looking for a new space to gather. Some chanted, "This is what democracy looks like" and others chanted: "Hey, hey, ho, ho, our billionaire mayor has got to go."
The park itself remained surrounded by police barricades.
Protesters in New York fought back the threat of a similiar sweep weeks ago, but momentum against the camps appears to be growing as authorities across the U.S. grow impatient with the self-proclaimed leaderless movement and its lack of a focused demand.
"From the beginning, I have said that the City had two principal goals: guaranteeing public health and safety, and guaranteeing the protesters' First Amendment rights" to free speech, Bloomberg said in a statement. "But when those two goals clash, the health and safety of the public and our first responders must be the priority."
The city told protesters they could come back after the cleaning, but under new tougher rules, including no tents, sleeping bags or tarps, which would effectively put an end to the encampment if enforced.
Concerns about health and safety issues at Occupy Wall Streetcamps around the U.S. have intensified, and protesters have been ordered to take down their shelters, adhere to curfews and relocate so that parks can be cleaned.
Police have made similar sweeps and arrests in recent days in Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon. Two camps had fatalshootings last week, including a suicide, and bodies were found attwo other camps.