Yesterday one of the nation's longest running "Occupy" encampments was evicted by police in Albany, the capital of the Empire State. After two months in a park across from City Hall and the Capitol, the Department of General Services workers and city policy notified protesters yesterday afternoon that a court order had given them the authority to remove them. As a group of demonstrators angrily shouted in protest, workers took down the tents until just one large tent (the "info tent") remained. After a standoff, at least 50 occupiers seized this tent and paraded it through the city, then, as night fell, returned to the park for a final showdown with the cops.
The Times Union reports that the tent was torn to shreds during a tug-of-war with police, and during the "melee" a cop on horseback pepper-sprayed the demonstrators. In a statement issued after the eviction, police said two protesters were pepper-sprayed, but a reporter spoke with "at least half a dozen who had signs of being hit directly in the face by the spray and were still in pain." A City Councilman was one of the bystanders hit with pepper spray, and another bystander who was sprayed appeared to have a seizure.
One demonstrator, Chuck Nasmith, 56, tried to use his "Who would Jesus evict?" sign as a shield, to no avail. "I said, 'Please stop it' and that's when he sprayed me like mad'," Nasmith tells the Times Union. "He would spray people and scream 'Go home' with a smile." As you can see in the video below, Santa was on hand to witness the mounted spraying (43 second mark):
Police said five protesters were arrested on minor charges such as disorderly conduct. Protesters had been occupying the city-owned park since October 21st, but the adjacent Lafayette Park is owned by the state, and Governor Cuomo had ordered state police to enforce an 11 p.m. curfew at that site. More than 130 people have been arrested there, the AP reports. However, District Attorney P. David Soares has declined to prosecute peaceful protesters who have been arrested on trespassing or disorderly conduct charges.
Yesterday, citing safety concerns due to the onset of winter, Albany mayor Jerry Jennings ordered an end to the occupation. Speaking on a morning radio program today, Jennings said, "There was no legal ambush. Everybody that was involved in this knew that the deadline was the 22nd. All hell didn't break loose. I didn't go in the middle of the night like they did in other cities. Our guys, they did show restraint."