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NYPD in riot gear clear 'Occupy City Hall' camp

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that a month-old encampment near City Hall "was less and less about protests" and "more and more became an area where homeless folks were gathering." Credit: NY Mayor's Office

A month-old encampment outside New York City Hall was cleared early Wednesday by hundreds of NYPD officers, who rousted the remaining occupants of what had begun as an anti-police protest but grew to be dominated by homeless people. 

Around 3:30 a.m., officers in riot gear gave an approximately 10-minute warning for those camped out at "Occupy City Hall" to leave; The officers then moved in to force out those who stayed, according to Raymond Spinella, the NYPD chief in charge of the operation.

About 40 or 50 people were in the camp when police gave the warning, according to Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. Seven people were arrested, including one who threw a brick at an officer during the eviction. The object struck the officer's shield and he wasn't injured, according to Shea, who said there were no injuries to cops or occupants.

"Ultimately, it was, I think I would categorize it as one for the win column and another step toward getting back to normalcy back here in New York," Shea said at a news conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

By dawn Wednesday, cleaning crews were powerwashing graffiti covering the plaza and also threw the tents and tarps, left by occupants, into garbage trucks. Spinella said the plaza could be closed for weeks during the cleanup. Much of the graffiti was gone by 6:30 p.m. though some remained.

"Occupy City Hall" started the night of June 23, when anti-police activists began camping around a grassy patch, park benches and subway entrances near the corner of Centre and Chambers streets northeast of City Hall, where the mayor and City Council work. Demands included at least $1 billion to be cut from the NYPD’s roughly $6 billion budget. About a week later, when the budget was due, $1 billion had been removed, though some activists have accused the city of budgetary tricks without meaningful cuts. 

The encampment came amid weeks of local and national protests in the aftermath of the bystander-recorded death of George Floyd, a Black man who died on May 25 while a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Over the following weeks, the City Hall encampment crowd size varied — swelling at points to thousands, shrinking at others to a few dozens — as tarps, tents, and hammocks dominated the space.

“The gathering there got smaller and smaller, was less and less about protests, more and more became an area where homeless folks were gathering," de Blasio said Wednesday. He said the administration had for weeks been eyeing when would be the right time to shut down the encampment.

At times violent and chaotic and at other times festive and quiet, the encampment came to be surrounded by police fencing linked together by occupants, who controlled access. Earlier this month, a woman questioned those who sought to walk into the plaza whether they supported the Black Lives Matter movement and admonished that no video or photos were allowed.

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