ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Several Occupy protesters were pepper sprayed by a police officer on horseback after a confrontation broke out when police took the last tent away from their dismantled encampment in a city park Thursday evening.
A dozen city workers backed by about 20 police officers, including two on horseback, removed tents from the Occupy Albany encampment starting in the afternoon after a judge issued a court order for removal. The protesters tried to keep what they call their info tent, saying they thought they had an agreement to keep that one with nobody sleeping in it.
About 20 protesters linked arms and surrounded the large aluminum-frame tent. A police supervisor said people could stay but the tents and belongings had to go. When the cleanup crew started to dismantle it, the protesters lifted the last tent and carried it away. They marched to City Hall, where police blocked the doors, and then more than 50 demonstrators walked, chanted and carried it in two long loops around downtown streets, with a police escort blocking traffic.
"For every eviction, another occupation!" they chanted. "All day, all week, occupy Albany!"
When they returned to the park, they set the tent down and began holding an assembly. After 15 minutes, the police came over from City Hall, protesters picked up the tent again and officers also grabbed on. That began a tug-of-war that the police eventually won while collapsing the tent and its supports. At least five demonstrators were pepper sprayed, and at least one was coughing and choking on the ground and taken away by ambulance.
Police said four protesters were arrested on minor charges of obstruction or disorderly conduct.
Bradley Russell said only one policeman was spraying, from horseback, into the faces of people who were near the tent, including his.
Shanna Goldman's face was streaked white from the spray and tears.
"All we did was hold on the tent and say, 'Why are you doing this?'" said Goldman, her eyes still shut.
Police spokesman Detective James Miller said in a statement that two people were pepper sprayed when they became very aggressive toward officers. He said two officers sustained minor injuries.
The police made a circle around the tent with their nightsticks out, surrounded by protesters yelling at them. After city workers dragged it away, the police withdrew to City Hall.
Miller said the city and the police department "have gone to great lengths over the past two months to accommodate the protesters' First Amendment rights."
"The actions taken today were based on a court order and were appropriate," he said. "The order does not preclude anyone from continuing to protest in the park at any time, and the city will continue to respect Occupy Albany's right to free speech."
Later Thursday night, several protesters returned to the park carrying signs.
City officials had allowed the Occupy demonstrators to stay overnight in the park since Oct. 21 even as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has had state police enforce an 11 p.m. curfew in adjacent Lafayette Park, where more than 130 people have been arrested. A group of troopers stood nearby Thursday as the encampment was dismantled. About 20 stood near the Capitol as the tent was marched past.
As cold weather arrived, the city gave the protesters until Thursday, the first day of winter, citing safety concerns about people in upstate New York sleeping in tents.
District Attorney P. David Soares has declined to prosecute peaceful protesters who were charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct, with their cases getting dismissed in city court. Soares said this week his position hasn't changed.
On Tuesday, Occupy Albany protesters said they had agreed on one goal: to get money out of American politics, demanding "true democracy, unshackled from the corrosive influence of concentrated economic power." Organizers also said they had found some office space for at least a few days that they plan to use.
In Buffalo, police overnight Wednesday shut down a second Occupy Buffalo encampment set up just days ago in a downtown park a few blocks from the movement's main protest site near City Hall.
In Binghamton, Occupy protesters said this week they were packing up their encampment for winter but had acquired a mobile yurt, a type of hut, they plan to use for education.