In an unexpected move, the New York City Police Department descended on Zuccotti Park around 1 a.m. Tuesday morning, proceeding to evict protesters, clear the park and arrest those that stood in their way.
Police told demonstrators that the 2-month-old camp must be temporarily emptied for cleaning, citing "health and fire safety" hazards, and that protesters could either leave on their own volition or stay and be arrested and stripped of their belongings. By 4 a.m., the park was cleared and hundreds of protesters, uncertain of their next move and blocked by police barricades, wandered the financial district.
According to The Associated Press, 70 arrests had already been made.
While police say protesters will be allowed back in the park in the morning, their tents will not, according to an eviction notice handed to occupiers.
"You are required to immediately remove all property, including tents, sleeping bags and tarps from Zuccotti Park. That means you must remove the property now," the notice read. "You will be allowed to return to the park in several hours, when this work is complete. If you decide to return, you will not be permitted to bring your tents, sleeping bags, tarps and similar materials with you."
Although the park was cleared, some protesters did not appear ready to give in to the eviction notice's demands.
"This is a standoff," said James Rose, 39, an artist who had been occupying the park on and off for a month. Rose is a member of the Arts and Culture working group, and had been out for the evening at an Occupy Wall Street arts show offsite. He returned home to find himself locked out by the barricades.
He gestured at a line of roughly 30 cops, setting up a fresh row of metal fences along the side of Cortland Street, one block north of the park. "We're being herded like sheep now," Rose said. "But this is so not over."
Garrett Perkins, 29, standing with two stuffed camping backpacks, said he had been sleeping in Zuccotti when hundreds of cops surrounded the tents. Most protesters did not move, he said, even after the police first announced that the park must be cleared. Then the police began throwing out tents, cuffing occupiers and using pepper spray.
Perkins travelled to Occupy Wall Street from Alaska with a large collection of cold weather gear. When the choice came down to losing his gear or walking, he opted to hold onto his belongings.
"I thought it would be a blow to myself and the movement if I lost all this cold weather gear," Perkins said. "This is a long uphill battle and we're going to need it."
Protesters did not appear ready to give up the fight -- or the occupation of Zuccotti -- despite the setback.
"The movement started at Zuccotti, but it's bigger than Zuccotti," said Jerry Letto, a 24-year-old deliveryman from Brooklyn. Letto said demonstrators would "definitely" return to Zuccotti, although the time frame remained unclear at that time.
"I don't know about that," Billie Greenfield, a 24-year-old standing nearby said. Greenfield wasn't without hope, however. "This will only make us stronger," she said.
Through the night, protesters routinely sang "We Shall Overcome" and chanted "We are the 99 percent." Others beat drums and yelled: "New York, Cairo, Wisconsin, push us down we'll rise again!" They did so under the watchful eye of hundreds of police officers.
Shen Tong, a protester and former leader of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, tried to calm the growing tension between protesters and police. Addressing a crowd of about a hundred people two blocks from the park, he shouted, and his words were echoed by all those standing near.
"Brothers and sisters of the NYPD who used to think you're not part of this. Tonight, you're a part of this," he said. "You used to think you could just keep your head down and get along, or maybe get ahead, but tonight, we tell you, you are involved!"
Shen said the key to winning the night was to stay mobile. In light of the night's events, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is reportedly planning to address the situation at an 8 a.m. press conference. Demonstrators had previously planned to stage "a block party the 1 percent will never forget" on Wall Street Thursday in commemoration of the Occupy Wall Street's two-month anniversary.
Molly O'Toole contributed reporting.