Several Occupy protesters were pepper-sprayed by an Albany police officer on horseback after a confrontation broke out when police took the last tent away from the dismantled encampment in a city park Thursday evening.
A dozen city workers backed by about 20 police, including two on horseback, removed tents from the Occupy encampment starting in the afternoon after a judge issued a court order for removal. The protesters tried to keep what they call an "info tent," saying they thought they had an agreement to keep that one with nobody sleeping in it.
About 20 protesters surrounded the large aluminum-frame tent, linking arms. 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 grabbed on. That began a tug-of-war that the police eventually won while collapsing the tent and its supports. At the same time, at least five demonstrators were pepper-sprayed, and at least one was coughing and choking on the ground and taken away by ambulance.
Bradley Russell said only one policeman was spraying, from horseback, into the faces of people who were near the tent, including his.
"All we did was hold on the tent and say, 'Why are you doing this?' " said Shanna Goldman, her faced streaked white from the spray and tears, her eyes still shut.
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.
City officials had allowed demonstrators to stay overnight in the park since Oct. 21 even as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has had state police enforce an 11 p.m. curfew in adjacent Lafayette Park. A group of troopers stood nearby Thursday as the encampment was dismantled.
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.