At least six people were arrested at a cluster of tents near Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan’s East Village on Tuesday morning in a protest against Mayor Eric Adams’s campaign to clear the city of homeless encampments.
The protest began as sanitation workers swept the encampment for at least the seventh time in the last six weeks. The park has become ground zero to the small but vocal movement protesting Mr. Adams’s policies for addressing homelessness.
“Housing is a human right, fight, fight, fight,” the protesters chanted as police vans pulled up on neighboring streets around 9 a.m., and campers and supporters from a host of mutual aid and tenant activist groups taped off the tents with red packing tape.
The encampment has been set up for weeks under scaffolding outside a shuttered public school on East Ninth Street, across Avenue B and opposite the park, an area dubbed Anarchy Row.
The number of tents has fluctuated, but on Tuesday morning, in anticipation of a sweep that the city had announced with a sign four days before, five tents were set up. Encampment cleanups are conducted by teams of sanitation workers, homeless outreach workers and officers.
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As more than a dozen officers milled in the street, an outreach worker in an orange vest approached one of the campers, Sinthia Vee, and told her he could get her a room in a safe haven, a specialized shelter that offers more privacy and social services than traditional shelters.
The people arrested included activists from a Washington Square Park group, WSP Mutual Aid, and Brooklyn Eviction Defense. All of them went willingly except Johnny Grima, 37, a homeless man who has emerged as a de facto spokesman for the protesters. He has been arrested three times in the last month.
As three officers carried him away from the tents and loaded him into the back of a police van, a protester shouted: “Shame on you. Is that how you treat houseless people?”
In many of the dozens of encampments that the police and sanitation crews have cleared around the city, tents reappear after a day or two — an indication that the people in them are declining to move to the shelters the city offers as an alternative. But in and around Tompkins Square Park, the refusal to be permanently evicted has taken on an explicitly political tone.
Posters affixed to the plywood fencing surrounding the school read: “Housing not shelters” and “Apartments not arrests,” references to the protesters’ demand that the city offer homeless people permanent places to live, rather than shelters and other transitional housing.
At the sweep on Anarchy Row on April 6, a handful of campers and their supporters refused to leave voluntarily for about seven hours, before the police moved in and made arrests. Two days later, a rally at the park against the evictions drew about 100 people, many of them from mutual aid organizations and homeless advocacy groups.
Several videos of officers roughly handling homeless people and their belongings have circulated widely on social media, complicating Mr. Adams’s attempts to portray the dismantling of encampments as something being done for the good of the homeless people themselves.
The sweeps, and the controversy over them, continue even as Mr. Adams has moved to expand housing options for homeless New Yorkers. Last week, he announced that the city would open at least 900 new beds in specialized shelters that often offer more privacy and fewer rules and curfews than traditional shelters.
The protests continue a tradition in the park of left-leaning protest and resistance to authority that dates back to at least 1857, when 4,000 people gathered for an American Workers League rally to demand jobs and aid for the unemployed. During the Civil War, soldiers’ wives protested the halt of public relief, and in 1874, at the park’s first full-on riot, club-swinging police officers plunged into a crowd of thousands of unemployed people who were demanding a public-works program.
Fast-forward to the Tompkins Square Park Riot of 1988, when attempts to impose a curfew at the park led to a clash between the police and protesters who included homeless people camped there. The following year, a tent city had returned to the park and was torn down again.
In 1991, the tent city, by then swollen to about 200 people, was dismantled by the city yet again, and the park was closed for six months. The night it reopened, more than 100 people defied the curfew, including several who climbed into trees, and 14 people were arrested.
In recent years, the park has been home to encampments on and off and was a frequent target of sweeps conducted under Mr. Adams’s predecessor, Bill de Blasio. Last summer, one park dweller said that the cleanup crews came through at least evvel a week and tossed his belongings if he was not there to safeguard them.
The park has become so synonymous with encampments that in February, the TV show “Law and Order” erected a cluster of tents for a shoot, on the other side of the park from an encampment of homeless nonactors.
The present-day encampment is much smaller than the ones from the 1980s and 90s — lately it has had no more than 10 people, and often just a few.
Today, before the police closed in, Mr. Grima shouted at them, “They got 250,000 vacant apartments in the city, man. Why am I homeless? Why are all my friends homeless?”