An East Village homeless encampment sweep descended into chaos Wednesday, as a massive police presence dismantled the sidewalk lodging, resulting in one arrest.
A swarm of cops pushed their way into the East 9th Street and 1st Avenue encampment during the morning of Sept. 27 as its unhoused residents and local supporters decried the move. The cops were part of a large task force that included sanitation workers and a single DHS worker who sent several of the street homeless individuals grabbing their belongings and scattering.
Formerly homeless Lower East Sider Johnny Grima attended the sweep to support his friends and sat in a single deck chair, one of the only items left. Despite having no tents or built structures, cops lunged at Grima and pulled him to the ground and placed him in cuffs for the defiant sit-in.
The press was also pushed around a bit during the incident. As amNewYork Metro filmed the incident, a lieutenant snatched the reporter’s cellphone despite having press credentials in full view, stating: “This is coming with us.”
The reporter was then pushed by a plainclothed detective before another officer retrieved the device and returned it to the reporter.
It was the latest in the city’s ongoing effort to end homeless encampments on the street — a campaign that has been criticized by homeless advocates and city officials who say it has proven insufficient in servicing homeless residents and connecting them to the help they need.
‘They are coming in strong today’
Before the chaotic sweep Wednesday, a member of the encampment, 36-year-old Eduardo Ventura, told amNewYork Metro that he expected the move.
“They are coming in strong today,” Ventura said, watching as several police cruisers parked across the street from his encampment a few hours before things unraveled.
Ventura claims that police have been harassing him and fellow homeless individuals who sleep rough on the block by parking their cruisers near his small patch of concrete, verbally berating them, and performing encampment sweeps without notice. According to Ventura and several of those he camps alongside, the alleged feud with the law began on July 24 after he says he was assaulted by a cop.
“He started rushing at me,” Ventura said, showing amNewYork Metro a photo of his bloodshot eye after the purported assault. “They threw me on the floor and started hitting me on the floor.”
Ventura said this happened after he broke up a fight between two individuals and was targeted by the cops after someone accused him of having a weapon. While admitting he has a knife tucked away in his pocket, he claims he never produced it. Ventura says that since that time, and with a pending lawsuit, cops have repeatedly returned to the area.
“Every day the police pass through saying that someone is calling them and that we are not meant to be here—every day!” Ventura charged. “When you sue the city, they come after you.”
Other side of the story
NYPD sources report a different narrative from the incident. According to the cops, he was put into cuffs for threatening another man with a knife. Cops say he resisted arrest and even tried to swing at the officers. Police say a knife was recovered at the scene. He was charged with resisting arrest, menacing, and criminal possession of a weapon.
Sources state Ventura is also known to the department, with prior arrests that included allegedly attempting to strike a cop with a golf club, slashing tires, and stealing a phone from a 13-year-old girl.
With a sweep notice planned to take place on Sept. 27, several homeless rights activists arrived at the meager encampment site to offer support and help move belongings, so they did not hit the trash pile. They also say they arrived out of fear that Ventura would be attacked.
“It’s very scary. Trying to survive over the night then you gotta wake up, you know, to being harassed by these agencies,” encampment member Remech Hall said.
As police wrestled with Grima, a woman who says she lives in the area attempted to get in involved in the clash.
“The residents don’t care, we want them here!” she hollered at the police force that contained members of the 9th Precinct and NYPD TARU. “Where are they supposed to go?” she asked.
For Ventura and Hall, this heavy-handed response to what they cite as the city’s most vulnerable, is proof that they are being treated unjustly.
“What they are doing is not right. They gotta make a change,” Hall said.
Cops, however, disputed the harassment claims, stating that the sweep operation was a result of numerous community grievances from locals and business owners who complained that the sidewalk was blocked.