By Jill Colvin, Julie Shapiro, Patrick Hedlund, Tom Liddy and Michael Ventura
MANHATTAN — NYPD officers dressed in riot gear moved into Zuccotti Park early Tuesday morning and cleared Occupy Wall Street protesters who have been encamped there for nearly two months.
Protesters were rousted at roughly 1 a.m. by police with bullhorns and bright lights who distributed fliers telling them they had to vacate the park because they posed a fire and health risk. They were told to leave immediately and clear out all of their personal belongings.
As helicopters hovered overhead, police officers swarmed the park, herding protesters out of the park and north along Broadway. Most left peacefully, clutching bags and belongings, but more than 100 protesters gathered in the kitchen tent, clasping arms and using bike locks to chain themselves to trees.
"People are singing," said Angelique Richards, 18, of Queens, who worked on Occupy Wall Street's medical team. "They're just holding on to each other."
Soon after, the police surrounded that tent and then moved in.
"We were crowded into the kitchen ... and they trampled us," said protester Stevie Bates, 18, of the Bronx. "I was hyperventilating. People were on top of me. I was screaming."
Bates said she was eventually dragged out to the street by cops.
Police were dragging protesters out "like rag dolls," said Chris Porter, 26, who was also in the kitchen tent. Police were pulling them "by their hair and legs," he said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 200 people were arrested both within the park and in the surrounding vicinity. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said "several hundred" police officers were involved.
Bloomberg said Brookfield came to the city and asked for help (PDF) from the NYPD and the Department of Sanitation to get the protesters and their tents and sleeping bags out, but Bloomberg added on Tuesday, "make no mistake, the final decision to act was mine and mine alone."
"Over time, I have become increasingly concerned, as have the owners, Brookfield Properties, that Occupy Wall Street posed a threat," Bloomberg said.
"It has become increasingly difficult even to monitor activities in the park to protect the protesters and the public," Bloomberg added, saying that he chose to time the sweep at night to "reduce any danger" of problems.
"At the site, they were violating Brookfield Properties' rights, and at the site, the safety and health violations had become intolerable," Bloomberg added.
Once driven from the park, many of the protesters headed uptown and briefly reconvened in Foley Square, before marching up Centre Street. After reaching SoHo, the group made is way back downtown.
"As had been widely reported, conditions in Zuccotti Park had become dangerous, unhealthy and unsafe," Brookfield Poperties said in a statement. "In our view, these risks were unacceptable and it wold have been irresponsible to not request that the city take action."
Bloomberg said several people were treated for "minor injuries" including a police officer who had heart palpitations.
A spokesman for City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said the upper Manhattan representative was hurt and arrested during the evictions.
"[A staffer] saw Ydanis getting taken into a police van in handcuffs with what appeared to be a cut over his eye," said Rodriguez's press secretary David Segal.
In another incident, a police officer was seen being taken away from Zuccotti Park on a stretcher with cuts on his face.
The fliers distributed earlier said that the city and the park's owners, Brookfield Properties, had "determined that the continued occupation of Zuccotti Park poses an increasing health and fire safety hazard to those camped in the park, the city's first responders and to the surrounding community.
"You are required to immediately remove all property, including tents, sleeping bags and tarps from Zuccotti Park," the note continued. "That means you must remove the property now."
By 1:30 a.m., police had the park surrounded and had erected bright stadium lights, said Ro Sheffe, a Community Board 1 member who saw the events unfold from his Liberty Street apartment.
Then the police started to move in and force the protesters out.
Some protesters chanted "Shame! Shame!" as they were forced up Broadway.
Paul Newell, 36, who's a Democratic district leader for the area around Zuccotti Park, was arrested in the melee. He had come down to be an intermediary between protesters and police. But when he got there, police "shoved me with the riot shield, jabbed me a few times with the nightstick, threw me against a car and arrested me," he said.
He said he was taken to One Police Plaza, charged with obstructing government administration and released.
"The city certainly doesn't seem to be acting in the spirit of free speech," Newell told DNAinfo after his release.
By 2 a.m. dozens of cops could be seen in the park tearing down tents, tarps, and other structures in the encampment that has filled Zuccotti Park for nearly two months. Torn pieces of cardboard protest signs fluttered in the wind. Much of the debris was tossed into garbage trucks, and the sound of their crunching machines could be heard.
Some of the protesters were forced to leave their personal belongings behind in the confusion.
A woman who gave her name only as Fida said she had gone out to get food before cops moved in, and when she returned she couldn't get back into the park.
"All my possessions are in there," she said, "my house keys, my ID, everything."
Several protesters standing alongside the park watching the tent city come down vowed to return.
"We're just going to put them up again," said protester Channing Creager, 22.
Still, she said she was taken by surprise when police moved in.
"I was really scared," she said. "But no one's getting hurt right now."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and other officials met secretly at City Hall earlier in the evening to OK the eviction, the New York Post reported.
The city did not hold a press conference or issue a statement during the mass eviction except to tweet that, "Occupants of Zuccotti should temporarily leave and remove tents and tarps. Protestors can return after the Park is cleared."
After the operation, Mayor Bloomberg issued a statement.
"Protesters have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags," he said.
"Now they will have to ocupy the space with the power of their arguments."
The flier distributed in the park said protesters would be allowed to return once the city had a chance to clean it. When they returned, however, they would not be allowed to bring their tents and sleeping bags with them.
The notice also said that protesters who left their personal belongings behind could retrieve it at a Santiation facility at 650 West 57th Street after noon on Tuesday.
Downtown residents and business owners had long complained that the Occupy Wall Street protesters had overstayed their welcome, turning their neighborhood into a toilet and hurting local businesses.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg had threatened last month to clear Zuccotti Park, but that was called off at the last minute. After that incident, several political observers said the mayor had averted political suicide by calling off the raid.