On Monday morning, about a dozen people gathered at a small homeless encampment near Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan’s East Village to hold a memorial service for Jose Hernandez, known to the community as Joe, an encampment resident who had died just days earlier.
As the group of residents, activists, and other community members lit candles, hung flowers, and wrote loving messages to Hernandez in preparation for the service, roughly a dozen New York City Police Department officers and a handful of city Department of Sanitation workers approached the encampment’s lone standing tent and pile of belongings, which were sitting only a few feet away.
The mourners knew why the city had come: Since Mayor Eric Adams ramped up homeless encampment “cleanups” — colloquially known as sweeps — earlier this year, city workers have shown up to dismantle this encampment nearly 10 times, throwing away residents’ tents and belongings and sometimes arresting community members who protest the forcible relocation.
The sweeps are part of Adams’s efforts to compel unhoused people sleeping on the street to accept city services, like homeless shelters and safe havens. But many, including those at this East Village encampment, which they have dubbed Anarchy Row, have bad experiences in such facilities, which they describe as carceral and dangerous. They refuse the city’s services unless they include a private room, without a curfew, or a pathway to a permanent apartment, which the city often doesn’t offer. So the city comes, again and again to the same encampments, often trashing residents’ belongings.
Among the cops who arrived Monday morning were those assigned to the local precinct, as well as several members of the new “business improvement deployment team,” a unit the NYPD quietly rolled out in March to police for homelessness and quality of life crimes in Manhattan shopping areas. According to the New York Post, the department formed the roughly 30-officer team after Midtown businesses complained about “deteriorating conditions” in their areas, and it responds to complaints directly from business improvement districts and community boards.
As the cops approached the encampment, community members asked them to hold off on the sweep. “Can you wait until the memorial is done?” someone asked Sergeant Michael Fox of the Ninth Precinct.
“You can go over there and take care of the memorial; I’m in the middle of doing something here,” Fox replied. “You’re impeding my police investigation. … Blow your candles and stuff and set up over there.”
Sanitation workers then threw the tent and belongings into a garbage truck, while community members accused the cops of interrupting what they hoped would be a peaceful service. “I’m not interrupting anything,” Fox responded. “You’re interrupting me.”
“Can you just show a little respect for the memorial?” someone asked. “When you show us respect, we’ll show respect,” Fox said.
As the sanitation workers continued to sweep, some community members yelled at the cops, some recorded on their cell phones, while others embraced one another, and some cried.