Hundreds of people were on the streets of Lower Manhattan after police moved in to demolish the two-month-old Occupy Wall Street protest camp, the heart of the “Occupy” movement that spread to dozens of cities around the world.
Officers in riot gear arrived without warning at 1am and demanded protestors leave Zuccotti Park with the tents, tarpaulins and other belongings that had threatened to become a permanent fixture through the winter.
Almost 200 people were arrested during the operation and in the subsequent hours, as displaced protestors assembled, marched or ran through the nearby streets. While some residents of the camp left of their own accord, several dozen chained themselves together and to trees and were forcibly removed. Several hundred more people, summoned by social networks, joined them in the streets throughout the night, but the New York Police Department blocked off access to the area, sometimes forming lines eight officers deep behind temporary barricades.
In less than three hours, the police had cleared the park completely, and steam cleaned the area.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the park had become unsanitary and dangerous, and it wasn’t fair to prevent others from using the park. The early-hours raid was planned to minimise the risk of confrontation, he said.
"The law that created Zuccotti Park required that it be open for the public to enjoy for passive recreation 24 hours a day," Mr Bloomberg said. "Ever since the occupation began, that law has not been complied with, as the park has been taken over by protesters, making it unavailable to anyone else."
The park would be reopened, he said, but police would enforce rules preventing camping there. People would have to “occupy the space with the power of their arguments”.
The Occupy Wall Street movement began with a march through Manhattan’s Financial District on 17 September, aimed at highlighting inequality and the effects of the weak economy, and at protesting the bailout of US banks during the 2008 financial panic. Modelling their protest on Egypt’s Tahrir Square, organisers planned to create a permanent camp in the area. Copycat occupations sprang up in cities across the US and elsewhere in the developed world, including in London where protestors camped near St Paul’s Cathedral were planning to march on the US embassy to protest the New York evictions.
In Manhattan, evicted Occupy Wall Street protestors struggled in the small hours of the morning to regroup. Gaggles of people, many on smartphones, could be found on most street corners in the area outside the police exclusion zone. Foley Square, home of the federal courts, quickly became a focal point for the displaced protestors and new supporters, and a plan emerged to converge mid-morning on union headquarters in the hope of attracting additional support from organised labour.