LOS ANGELES, Calif.–Police officers in riot helmets arrested 292 people today and, in a mostly peaceful operation, dismantled the tent city that sprang up Oct. 1 outside Los Angeles City Hall as a western outpost of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The park where the encampment was set up was fully cleared by 5:10 a.m., about five hours after the operation began, Los Angeles police Officer Cleon Joseph said.
“We’ve arrested all the Occupy L.A. protesters on the ground in the park and the last three people who had climbed high up into a tree house,” he told City News Service.
Police Cmdr. Andrew Smith added that a police shotgun that fires beanbags was deployed during the treehouse arrest, which he described as one of “two minor use-of-force” incidents during the operation. No major injuries were reported.
LAPD Sgt. Mitzi Fierro, a police spokeswoman, said 292 people were arrested during the operation.
Police said the people arrested at the Occupy L.A. site were being booked on suspicion of misdemeanor failure to disperse for not complying with the LAPD’s declaration–issued just before 12:30 a.m.–of an unlawful assembly. The declaration covered not only the encampment but also a multi-block area in the Civic Center area.
Bail for those under arrest was being set at $5,000.
At a morning news conference, protester Mario Brito called on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich to reduce the bail amount, calling it an “unfair and inhumane” punishment.
“There is no reason what so ever that peaceful, nonviolent demonstrators should have a $5,000 bail. It’s punitive in nature,” Brito said.
Brito said the movement will continue and declared that a full moratorium on foreclosures will be the movement’s “calling card.”
“Banks, if you do not heed our call,” Brito said, “expect to see our tents in your lobbies. Expect to see our tents in your boardrooms. Expect to see our tents in your houses. Expect to see our tents in your country clubs.”
In preparation for the dismantling operation, the LAPD declared a citywide tactical alert about 10:30 p.m Tuesday, enabling it to hold over officers from earlier shifts and move officers around as needed. It was cancelled about 6:30 a.m., said Officer Norma Eisenman, an LAPD spokeswoman.
As the LAPD moved out the last of the protesters arrested outside City Hall, crews from the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks this morning began delivering concrete K-rail and fencing to block off access to the lawn.
“The park will be closed to everyone for awhile, so that the Parks Department can do an assessment of the damage done to the area,” Maiberger said. “… Part of the irrigation system has been compromised, the lawn was destroyed and some of the trees were damaged, so they have to figure out a plan for repairs.”
Shortly after 3:30 a.m., Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck arrived at the scene to survey what the police operation had accomplished over the preceding three hours. The mayor said he had never seen a “more professional, restrained police force under very trying circumstances as I’ve witnessed today” and, seemingly relieved by the absence of major incidents, praised the chief.
“This is a man who understood that constitutional policing is the only way Los Angeles can go. His officers responded to his call and did a phenomenal job,” Villaraigosa said.
Beck thanked the mayor and said he had deployed 1,400 police officers who acted “with a minimal use of force. I’ve never been prouder of the Los Angeles police force.”
In a slow-moving operation that remained mostly free of violent outbursts, officers from the LAPD’s elite Metro Division began moving onto the Occupy L.A. encampment on City Hall’s South lawn at 12:14 a.m., arresting those who refused to leave and dismantling tents and other forms of shelter.
An estimated 500 helmeted LAPD officers–some in white Hazmat uniforms–burst out of City Hall doors and descended down concrete stairs and into the Occupy L.A. encampment, while hundreds of other officers formed a line around the tent city. An unlawful assembly was declared around 12:30 a.m.
“Please do the right thing,” one protester yelled at the officers as they entered the camp.
Last week, the city declared that overnight camping on the south lawn outside City Hall would be unlawful starting 12:01 a.m. Monday.
The officers who enforced the order this morning began by ripping apart a makeshift so-called media tent and confronting a burly man with a camera who refused to moved, writhed and shouted, “I can’t breathe,” as around a half-dozen officers tried to subdue him.
Around 500 protesters were in and around the park on First Street between Main and Spring streets when the police raid began. Those wishing to call it a day were being escorted away by officers.
Among those arrested were about 80 people who had locked arms in a “Circle of Peace” and refused to budge.
Opamago Cascini, 29, was one of those sitting in the circle awaiting arrest.
“It’s easy to talk the talk, but you gotta walk the walk,” he said. Four offramps from the northbound and southbound Hollywood (101) Freeway were closed down at 10:04 p.m. Tuesday to keep motorists out of the Civic Center area during the camp-clearance operation, said California Highway Patrol Officer Anthony Martin. The ramps at Alameda Street, Spring Street, Los Angeles Street and Broadway reopened at 5 a.m.
LAPD officers also shut down a number of streets in downtown near the Civic Center site to block any would-be supporters from joining people at the Occupy L.A. encampment.
“The area we’ve shut down is bounded by Temple Avenue on the north, Broadway on the west, Third Street on the south and Alameda Avenue on east,” Rayner said.
By 10:30 a.m., all streets had been reopened, except for southbound Spring Street between Temple and First streets.
Members of the LAPD’s Metro Division led the final assault when police moved in to clear the camp. Metro Division specializes in crowd control, and LAPD SWAT units are drawn from Metro.
Villaraigosa said before the operation began that “a First Amendment area will remain open on the Spring Street City Hall steps. Once the park is cleared, it will be repaired and returned to all Angelenos to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
Los Angeles Police Protective League President Paul Weber praised the way officers handled the situation.
“Amid ever-changing political winds, LAPD officers have adhered to the highest standards of law enforcement in dealing with the Occupy L.A. protesters over the past two months. Acting on the commands of the civilian leadership in Los Angeles, the LAPD cleared the Occupy L.A. camp,” Weber said.
“While there is a place for civil protest, the unsanitary and dangerous condition of the Occupy L.A. encampment required that the encampment be disbanded.”
By Richie Duchon | City News Service