Police in Los Angeles and Philadelphia stormed Occupy Wall Street encampments in both cities on Wednesday, demanding protestors leave demonstration sites that had become two of the movement’s largest after evictions upended others across the country.
Dozens of officers in riot gear flooded down the steps of City Hall just after midnight and started dismantling the two-month-old camp two days after a deadline passed for campers to leave the lawn outside. The raid had a military precision and officers in helmets and wielding batons moved in and began making arrests after several orders were given to leave the small park.
The raid in Los Angeles came after demonstrators with the movement in Philadelphia marched through the streets after being evicted from their site.
The movement against economic disparity and perceived corporate greed began with Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan two months ago and has spread across the country and elsewhere.
Defiant Los Angeles campers, who were chanting slogans as officers surrounded the park, booed when an unlawful assembly was declared, paving the way for officers to begin arresting those who didn’t leave.
In the first moments of the raid, officers tore down a tent and tackled a tattooed man with a camera on City Hall steps and wrestled him to the ground. Someone yelled “police brutality”.
Teams of four or five officers moved through the crowd making arrests one at a time, cuffing the hands of protesters with zip-ties. A circle of protesters sat with arms locked, many looking calm and smiling.
Opamago Cascini (29) said the night had been a blast and he was willing to get arrested.
“It’s easy to talk the talk but you [have to] walk the walk,” Cascini said.
In Philadelphia, police began pulling down tents at about 1:20am EST after giving demonstrators three warnings that they would have to leave, which nearly all of the protestors followed. Dozens of demonstrators then marched through the street until they were stopped by police.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said breaking up the camp in the early-morning hours helped minimise any disruption to businesses and traffic.
Six protesters were arrested after remaining on a street that police tried to clear. The eviction overall appeared to have been carried out without any significant scuffles or violence.
“This is a symbolic action but in another sense this has been our home for almost two months and no one wants to see their home taken away from them,” 22-year-old Philadelphia protestor Bri Barton said while acknowledging the movement would have to leave the site.
Demonstrators and city officials in both Los Angeles and Philadelphia were hoping any confrontation would be nonviolent unlike evictions at similar camps around the country that sometimes involved pepper spray and tear gas.
About 1 200 Los Angeles officers staged demonstrations for hours outside Dodger Stadium before the raid. They were warned that demonstrators might throw everything from concrete and gravel to human faeces at them.
“Please put your face masks down and watch each other’s back,” a supervisor told them. “Now go to work”.
Before police arrived in large numbers, protesters were upbeat and the mood was almost festive. A protester in a Santa Claus hat danced in the street. A woman showed off the reindeer antlers she had mounted on her gas mask.
Fireworks exploded in the sky at one point. Later, as helicopters hovered above, someone blew “The Star Spangled Banner” on a horn.
As officers first surrounded the camp, hundreds of protesters chanted “the people united will never be defeated”.
Campers planning to defend the camp and hold their ground barricaded entrances to the park with trash cans.
The police operation was planned at night because downtown is mostly vacant with offices closed, fewer pedestrians and less traffic but a spokesperson said it could make officers more vulnerable.
“It’s more difficult for us to see things, to see booby traps,” Lieutenant Andy Neiman, told pool reporters. “Operating in the dark is never an advantage”.
Neiman said the force was prepared to deal with demonstrators holed up in the camp or those who had climbed up trees in the small park.
Gia Trimble, member of the Occupy Los Angeles media team, said a lot of people committed to the cause would stay and risk arrest.
“This is a monumental night for Los Angeles,” Trimble said. “We’re going to do what we can to protect the camp”.
In their anticipation of an eviction, the Los Angeles protesters designated medics with red crosses taped on their clothing. Some protesters had gas masks.
Organisers at the camp packed up computer and technical equipment from the media tent.
Two men who constructed an elaborate tree house lashed bamboo sticks together with twine to push away any ladder police might use to evict them.
Police said they would be able to remove the tree climbers.
Members of the National Lawyers Guild had legal observers on hand for an eviction. — Sapa-AP