NEW YORK (AP) — Police arrested 70 protesters at New York's Zuccotti Park early Tuesday, including some who chained themselves together, while clearing the park so that sanitation crews could clean it.
Concerns about health and safety issues at Occupy Wall Street camps around the country have intensified, and protesters have been ordered to take down their shelters, adhere to curfews and relocate so that parks can be cleaned.
At about 1 a.m. Tuesday, New York City police handed out notices from Brookfield Office Properties, owner of Zuccotti Park, and the city saying that the park had to be cleared because it had become unsanitary and hazardous. Protesters were told they could return in several hours, but without sleeping bags, tarps or tents.
Paul Brown, a spokesman for the New York Police Department, said the park had been cleared by 4:30 a.m. and that about 70 people who'd been inside it had been arrested, including a group who chained themselves together. One person was taken to a local hospital for evaluation because of breathing problems.
Police in riot gear filled the streets, car lights flashing and sirens blaring. Protesters, some of whom shouted angrily at police, began marching to two locations in Lower Manhattan where they planned to hold rallies.
Some protesters refused to leave the park, but many left peacefully.
Ben Hamilton, 29, said he was arrested "and I was just trying to get away" from the fray.
Rabbi Chaim Gruber, an Occupy Wall Street member, said police officers were clearing the streets near Zuccotti Park.
"The police are forming a human shield, and are pushing everyone away," he said.
Jake Rozak, another protester, said police "had their pepper spray out and were ready to use it."
Notices given to the protesters said the park "poses an increasing health and fire safety hazard to those camped in the park, the city's first responders and the surrounding community."
It said that tents, sleeping bags and other items had to be removed because "the storage of these materials at this location is not allowed." Anything left behind would be taken away, the notices said, giving an address at a sanitation department building where items could be picked up.
Alex Hall, 21, of Brooklyn, said police walked into the park "stepping on tents and ripping them out."
The New York Times reported that the clearing out of Zuccotti Park came as protesters announced on their website 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.
On Monday, a small group of demonstrators, including local residents and merchants, protested at City Hall. In recent weeks, they have urged the mayor to clear out the park because of its negative impact on the neighborhood and small businesses.
Occupy encampments have come under fire around the country as local officials and residents have complained about possible health hazards and ongoing inhabitation of parks and other public spaces.
Anti-Wall Street activists intend to converge at the University of California, Berkeley on Tuesday for a day of protests and another attempt to set up an Occupy Cal camp, less than a week after police arrested dozens of protesters who tried to pitch tents on campus.
The Berkeley protesters will be joined by Occupy Oakland activists who said they would march to the UC campus in the afternoon. Police cleared the tent city in front of Oakland City Hall before dawn Monday and arrested more than 50 people amid complaints about safety, sanitation and drug use.
- Zuccotti Park