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NYPD Clears Occupy City Hall Encampment, Mayor Says 'Health And Safety Issues Were Growing'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The NYPD cleared Occupy City Hall protesters from their encampment in a pre-dawn operation.

Several hundred police officers in riot gear moved in around 3:40 a.m. Wednesday.

Chief Raymond Spinella told reporters they gave a 10-minute warning, and the removal "went smoothly."

Watch Marcia Kramer's report --

And while the police in riot gear certainly looked intimidating, the NYPD carefully plotted the operation, coming with attorneys and video cameras to document officers' actions. There were seven arrests, including a person throwing a brick at an officer, who was not injured.

"The police department has closely monitored the situation at the park since its inception," he said. "We felt the time had come to end the occupation and allow cleanup crews to begin the process of removing the graffiti."

MOREGraffiti Is Making A Big Comeback In NYC, But There's No Money In The Budget To Fight It

Added Police Commissioner Dermot Shea: "I would characterize it as one in the win column and another step towards getting back to normalcy here in New York."

NYPD Clears Occupy City Hall

DEVELOPING: Chopper 2 is overhead as police clear protesters from outside City Hall. Watch more on CBSN New York:

Posted by CBS New York on Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Mayor Bill de Blasio said earlier this week the NYPD would make the call on when to clear the park.

CBS2 political reporter Marcia Kramer asked the mayor what changed.

"The gathering there got smaller and smaller, was less and less about protest, and more and more it became an area where homeless folks were gathering," de Blasio replied. "I said repeatedly, we do always respect the right to protest, but we do have to think about health and safety first -- and the health and safety issues were growing."

He said the Department of Homeless Service was also on scene to help engage people.

"There's been regular efforts by Homeless Services to engage folks who are there. They've been out there again today," he said. We want to make sure that as many people as possible will accept the shelter we have for them, hopefully turn their life around and not go back to the streets."

WATCH: Mayor Bill De Blasio Holds Daily Briefing Hours After City Hall Plaza Cleared

Mayor de Blasio Holds Media Availability by NYC Mayor's Office on YouTube

Protesters had been illegally camped outside City Hall for the past month, calling to defund the NYPD, help the formerly incarcerated, and provide affordable housing.

"We pay for this park with our tax paying dollars and we feed people, we cloth people, we give people the mental health services they deserve," said a man named "Gabe," of the Lower East Side.

CBS2's John Dias spoke with people who said the early morning raid was far from peaceful.

"We did not get a warning. They came in through the back and started to throw tables, started to rip into tents where people, children, sleep there, families sleep there," said Yessenia Benitez, of Harlem.

"They were going in there, ripping off the tents, dragging people out," another protester said.

Many said in order to make them vulnerable and get them to leave, fires were set on Chambers Street by someone set up by police. The NYPD denied the allegations.

"We went over there to try to put it out, even though we didn't start it," said Shermaine Lanster of Brooklyn.

Dias also spoke with many who said they support the Black Lives Matter movement, but they don't like what the camp has been doing and they're happy to see the graffiti is being cleaned up.

WATCH: NYPD Officials Address Reporters After Clearing Occupy City Hall 

"I think the protesters have a point. I don't like the vandalism at all. It dilutes their point," said Matthew Covary of the Upper West Side.

"I think they should just camp out somewhere that you don't have to inconvenience society," another person added.

Police said the area will likely be closed for weeks as crews begin the cleanup process.


Protesters, however, say they aren't giving up without a fight.

"We are reclaiming our space, it's as simple as that," one protester told CBS2's Ali Bauman. "The revolution is not going to die just because they simply decide to take the space we occupy."

In Wednesday evening's torrential downpour, around 100 protesters headed toward City Hall.

Police moved quickly to barricade off the entire area, but several people tried storming past, clashing with police by Foley Square.

Some protesters were pushed to the ground, but the crowd kept moving, trying to get back to the grounds of their former encampment.

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