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A worker uses a pressure washer to remove a BLM graffiti after police dismantled the "City Hall Autonomous Zone" that was ...

Police in riot gear clear New York City’s ‘Occupy City Hall’ camp

NEW YORK (AP) — Police in riot gear moved in early Wednesday to clear a month-long encampment of protesters and homeless people from a park near New York’s City Hall.

A line of officers with helmets and shields entered City Hall Park shortly before 4 a.m. and forced out about 50 people, many of them homeless, who remained at the encampment. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the clearing of the encampment, which had about 100 people still there, was unrelated to President Donald Trump’s threats to send federal law enforcers to New York to take on protesters, as the president has done in Portland, Oregon.

The decision to clear what Blasio called the increasingly unruly camp was made at about 10 p.m. Tuesday.

“We do always respect the right to protest, but we have to think about health and safety first, and the health and safety issues were growing,” de Blasio said. “So it was time to take action.”

Speaking later in Albany, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he’d spoken to the president by phone, and Trump had told him he wouldn’t be deploying extra federal law enforcement forces to New York for now, and that the two leaders would speak first before any such action happened.

“We left the conversation that if the president had any additional concerns, we would talk before he would take any additional action,” Cuomo said.

Video from the predawn police action at City Hall Park shows officers moving through the camp taking down tents and other temporary structures and tossing them into garbage trucks to be hauled away. Cleaning crews arrived later to scrub graffiti from buildings in the area.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, who joined de Blasio at his daily briefing, said officers instructed people to leave, and many did, but “about six” people were given summonses for refusing to disperse. One person was arrested for throwing a brick at an officer, denting his shield, Shea said. The commissioner said no injuries to officers or protesters were reported.

“I think I would categorize it as one for the win column, and you know, another step towards getting back to normalcy here in New York,” Shea said.

But some protesters who were in the park at the time of the raid described a less orderly scene.

“They tried to run us over with bikes,” Nene Thompkins, a 19-year-old woman living at the camp told Gothamist. “They pushed us with shields. They told us we couldn’t be on the sidewalk so walk on the street, then as soon as we got on the street they ambushed us.”

De Blasio said shelter services were offered to homeless people at the encampment.

The encampment in City Hall Park started in late June with several hundred people following weeks of protests sparked by the May death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. The “Occupy City Hall” protest was part of a national “defund the police” movement seeking to redirect funds from policing to community needs like housing and education.

Protesters said they would camp out until the city reduced the New York Police Department’s budget by $1 billion. The City Council responded by passing a budget that shifts roughly $1 billion from the police department, but some activists criticized the funding cuts as cosmetic or insufficient.

De Blasio, a Democrat, had earlier resisted calls to move the protesters out of the park that adjoins the historic building where he works.

The encampment was reminiscent of 2011’s Occupy Wall Street, when protesters against income inequality took over Zuccotti Park a few blocks from City Hall but were removed from the park by police after two months. De Blasio, who held the position of public advocate then, was critical of then-mayor Mike Bloomberg’s deployment of police to clear Occupy Wall Street.

De Blasio said Wednesday’s action was different. “The reality here is that again, this had become less and less about protests, more and more homeless individuals who are gathered there,” he said.

The mayor said the timing of the predawn raid was unrelated to Trump’s threats to send federal law enforcers to New York as the president has done in Portland. “We were waiting to really understand the facts and specifics and came to the conclusion this was the right time,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio said he sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf opposing any unsolicited deployment of federal officers to New York. “We’re New Yorkers. We will not take something like this lying down,” de Blasio said.

He said he will add his signature to a letter to Barr and Wolf from dozens of other mayors “to make clear that none of our cities wants this intrusion.”

Associated Press writer Marina Villeneuve contributed to this story from Albany, New York.