Occupy LA: Tents Gone, But Campaign Not Over

Occupy LA: Tents Gone, But Campaign Not Over

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LOS ANGELES -- It took Los Angeles police less than 30 minutes last night to take down the Occupy Wall Street encampment that had spent the past two months staked out in front of City Hall. Despite some 200 arrests, the night passed without serious incident, with protestors vowing to continue the fight.

By 5 a.m. the camp had been cleared and remained under a heavy police presence. Cleaning crews sifted through the rubble of mangled tents, trash and the remains of manmade structures erected during the occupation.

While tense at times, there have been no reports of excessive violence on the part of the police, who forced protestors to vacate the premises nearly a day after a city-imposed deadline to end the occupation had passed. Occupy protestors had filed an injunction with the city seeking to prevent the police action. No word on a decision has yet come.

Protestors, meanwhile, say they plan to move several blocks north to La Plazita Church, an iconic structure built back in 1822 by the original Los Angeles settlers. Others say they plan to erect a new camp about a mile north of City Hall, in an open park known as the “corn fields.”

“We are almost certain that the police will try to clear up this camp tonight,” said C.J., who co-moderates a daily assembly held by protestors. Speaking several hours before police moved in, she added, “We might be removed from here, but we won’t stop the fight.”

The crowds cheered.

Stand Aside or Face Arrest

Despite the feisty mood, there was little doubt among protestors about what was in fact coming. During an assembly held the day before, speakers urged the crowd not to confront the police and informed those present that they were free to remain inside a marked area where they would face arrest, or move to the sidewalks and act as witness the impending action.

“Those who are willing to face arrest must not show any resistance,” they stressed. “Those who don’t want to be arrested, feel free to serve as monitors and keep your cameras ready to record any excessive use of force by the police.” The speakers also said that a fund had been raised to help with bail, but they warned those willing to face arrest to “brace yourselves for a long night.”

A list of volunteers willing to be arrested was drawn up, while the phone number for the National Lawyers Guild was scrawled onto their forearms. Lawyers with the guild patrolled the grounds.

But with no word on the injunction, some began to wonder whether the police would in fact turn out.
“It's all up in the air,’’ said Peter Thottam, a lawyer involved with the request filed a day before in federal court. “It could be that they have already decided but we don’t know,” he added, explaining that with or without a decision authorities could act.

And act they did. As night fell, half a dozen police and sheriff’s helicopters swirled overhead, occasionally beaming lights into the crowd, which responded with the usual chant of, “We are the 99 percent." Others reinforced the message that the movement “was peaceful.”

As 10:30 approached, marking the time at which under local municipal code the gathering becomes “an unlawful assembly,” there was still no sign of police activity.

A few minutes past midnight, calls for a “mic check” went up across the crowd. Reports began to come in about large numbers of law enforcement officers gathering at the Los Angeles Police Academy, where they were boarding busses headed in the direction of the encampment.

By half-past midnight, LAPD had set up a security perimeter closing off access to vehicles and pedestrians. A line of police officers closed the circle, while an announcement was made declaring the gathering “unlawful.” Those gathered were given 10 minutes to disassemble or face arrest.

Without further notice, hundreds of police officers exited City Hall in blitzkrieg fashion, clearing the area within minutes.

LAPD Chief of Police Charlie Beck later told local media the operation “went as well as we could have expected,” noting that the take-over of the park was the hardest part, but that it was carried out with minimal force, unlike recent police actions against Occupy encampments in Oakland and New York.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also praised the operation, adding that it had demonstrated “a different path” forward in handling the ongoing Occupy movement.

Protestors, meanwhile, insist that their campaign is not over and are already planning to take over the Rose Parade in January. For the time being, however, most say the next step is to reorganize and find another site from which to continue the campaign.