Hundreds of New York City police officers began clearing Zuccotti Park of the Occupy Wall Street protesters early Tuesday, telling the people there that the nearly two-month-old camp would be “cleared and restored” before the morning and that any demonstrator who did not leave would be arrested.
The protesters, about 200 of whom have been staying in the park overnight, resisted with chants of “Whose park? Our park!” as officers began moving in and tearing down tents. The protesters rallied around an area known as “the kitchen” near the middle of the park and began building barricades with tables and pieces of scrap wood.
The officers, who had gathered between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges and then rode in vans along Broadway, moved into the one-square-block park shortly after 1 a.m.
As they did, dozens of protesters linked arms and shouted “No retreat, no surrender,” “This is our home” and “Barricade!” There were no immediate reports of arrests.
The police move came as organizers put out word on their Web site that they planned to “shut down Wall Street” with a demonstration on Thursday to commemorate the completion of two months of the beginning of the encampment, which has spurred similar demonstrations across the country.
The move also came hours after a small demonstration at City Hall on Monday by opponents of the protest, including local residents and merchants, some of whom urged the mayor to clear out the park.
The mayor’s office sent out a message on Twitter at 1:34 a.m. saying: “Occupants of Zuccotti should temporarily leave and remove tents and tarps. Protestors can return after the park is cleared.”
Before the police moved in, they set up a battery of klieg lights and aimed them into the park. A police captain, wearing a helmet, walked down Liberty Street and announced: “The city has determined that the continued occupation Zuccotti Park poses an increasing health and fire safety hazard.”
The captain ordered the protesters to “to immediately remove all private property” and said that if they interfered with the police operation, they would be arrested. Property that was not removed would be sent to a dump, the police said.
Some of the protesters grabbed their possessions. “They’re not getting our tents down,” one man shouted. People milled around, and some headed to the edges of the park.
By 1:45 a.m., dozens of officers moved through the park, some bearing plastic shields and wearing helmets. They removed tents and bedding materials, putting them on the sidewalk. Some protesters could be seen leaving the park with their belongings, but a core group of more than 100 hunkered down at the encampment’s kitchen area, linking arms, waving flags, and singing and chanting their refusal to leave the park.
They sang “We Shall Overcome,” and chanted at the officers to “disobey your orders.”
“If they come in, we’re not going anywhere,” said Chris Johnson, 32, who sat with other remaining protesters near the food area. He said that the protest “has opened up a dialogue that hasn’t existed since I’ve been alive.” The action came as other cities’ police forces have begun evacuating similar protest camps.
A handful of protestors first unrolled sleeping bags and blankets in Zuccotti Park on the night of Sept. 17, but in the weeks that followed, the park became densely packed with tents and small tarp villages.
The protest spawned others and attracted celebrities and well-known performers. It became a tourist attraction, inspired more than $500,000 in donations and gained the support of labor unions and elected officials while creating division within City Hall and the Police Department.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has struggled with how to respond. He repeatedly made clear that he does not support the demonstrators’ arguments or their tactics, but he has also defended their right to protest and in recent days and weeks has sounded increasingly exasperated, especially in the wake of growing complaints from neighbors about how the protest has disrupted the neighborhood and hurt local businesses.
The mayor met daily with several deputies and commissioners, as more business owners complaining and editorials lampooning him as gutless, the mayor’s patience wore thin.
Steve Kenney contributed reporting.