Two months of continuous protests in Academy Park came to raucous end Thursday as city workers moved in and removed Occupy Albany tents.
Following the eviction, protesters took their cause to the streets and a handful of people were pepper-sprayed by police as protesters tried to return one tent to the park. Four protesters were arrested.
Since Dec. 6, the protesters have been occupying the park adjacent to the state Capitol with the permission of the city, which issued them a permit that expired Thursday. Around 2 p.m., workers from the city’s Department of General Services began removing the remaining tents under the supervision of city police.
Mark Mishler, an attorney for the Occupy Albany movement, said they were caught by surprise by the city’s actions. He said they’ve been talking with city officials for weeks but were served an eviction order Thursday afternoon. They tried to stop the eviction, Mishler said, but a state Supreme Court judge in Albany County rejected their requests, including one to just keep an information tent in the park without people sleeping there.
Albany police spokesman James Miller said officers moved in response to the court order. City officials have maintained that the permanent encampment needed to be taken down for health and safety reasons but noted that protesters could remain in the park continuously without tents.
“The city and the police department has gone to great lengths over the past two months to accommodate the protesters’ First Amendment rights. We were in constant dialogue with representatives of Occupy Albany that included the discussion of health and safety issues of those encamped in the park. The actions taken today were based on a court order and were appropriate. The order does not preclude anyone from continuing to protest in the park at anytime and the city will continue to respect Occupy Albany’s right to free speech,” Miller said Thursday night.
Occupy Albany lawyer Kathy Manley told the people around the tent that they could face obstruction charges if they blocked city workers, which would be a significantly more serious charge than the trespassing violations that protesters received for violating the curfew in the adjacent Lafayette Park. The Albany County district attorney has declined to prosecute the trespassing violations.
After all the tents had been removed except the information tent, police warned the remaining protesters to step away from the tent or risk arrest. The protesters then picked up the tent, which was at least 6 feet wide and 10 feet long, and marched it down to City Hall. The events were relayed via a live internet video stream and were observed by Gazette Photographer Patrick Dodson.
At City Hall, protesters were denied entrance by police, so they then began more than an hour of marching with the tent through the streets of Albany. They started up State Street, eventually reaching Lark Street via Washington Avenue, and then looped back down to the state Capitol. The protest took up at least one lane of traffic, with protesters taking turns holding up the tent and chanting. They eventually returned to Academy Park.
Not long after the return, police stationed by City Hall headed to the park and started to grab the tent. This resulted in a scuffle with protesters that involved pushing and the pepper spraying of at least four people by police, including an officer on horse back. The tent was split apart and protesters were pushed back as police formed a circle around the tent.
Police spokesman Miller said two protesters and two officers were injured and that officers pepper-sprayed two people when they became aggressive. Three protesters were arrested.
One of the protesters who was pepper-sprayed was 19-year-old Schenectady resident Anthony Hadden. After being sprayed in the face, he had trouble breathing and was shaking and was eventually taken away in an ambulance.
Miller said a television photographer sustained a back injury when he was struck while videotaping the confrontation. Police are trying to determine if the photographer was intentionally struck by one of the protesters or if it was accidental.
Any tents that were taken by the Department of General Services will be available to be picked up over the next 10 business days, authorities said.