Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday said the decision to move protesters out of City Hall Park during the early morning hours had been in the works for the past few weeks.
During his daily briefing, the mayor said NYPD officers were sent in because the protest movement had been growing smaller. He also said he was not influenced by President Donald Trump’s threats to send in federal agents but a health and safety issue they had been looking at for days.
“What we saw change over the last few weeks was the gathering there got smaller and smaller, was less and less about protests and more and more became an area where homeless folks were gathering. I said repeatedly 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. So it was time to take action,” de Blasio said.
Several hundred officers dispersed the remaining protesters after a nearly month-long encampment that started with protesters demanding that the NYPD be defunded, NYPD Commissioner of Operations Ray Spinella said in a press conference Wednesday.
Facing pressure from thousands of constituents, New York City did ultimately slash $1 billion from the police budget about a week into the protest encampment.
The approved budget reallocated some duties and millions of dollars in associated funding from the NYPD to the Department of Education, the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene and the Department of Homeless Services.
Protesters were given a ten-minute warning before the officers moved in around 4 a.m. on Wednesday. The process was peaceful and most left voluntarily, Spinella said.
“We felt the time had come to end the occupation and allow clean up crews to begin the process of removing the graffiti,” Spinella told reporters.
Seven people were arrested during the operation and one officer was struck by a brick, but not injured, he said.
The area will be closed for several weeks as city workers clean and remove graffiti protesters spray-painted on public buildings, Spinella said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that encampments are not permitted in New York City and his administration monitored the encampment balancing that policy with the right to protest.
“It’s an American value to respect the right to protest. I’ve also said we don’t allow encampments around this city. We haven’t for years, unlike the past. It’s something we have to assess because this is not like the other types of situations we’ve seen historically,” the mayor said during a press conference on Tuesday.
The encampment, however, is a public safety concern, de Blasio said.
“There is a balance we always strike between the right to protest and especially public safety. And I always put public safety first while respecting constitutional rights,” he said.