Los Angeles police evicted protesters camped in hundreds of tents around City Hall, ending almost two months of occupation and detaining about 300 people, while a similar operation in Philadelphia led to 52 arrests.
The demonstrators in the second- and fifth-most-populous U.S. cities were offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street movement that began protesting unemployment, income inequality and the financial industry in New York on Sept. 17.
Hundreds of police pushed through the Los Angeles camp about 12:30 a.m. local time, two days after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ordered the park closed. Chants of “We are peaceful! We are peaceful!” and signs reading “Free hugs” and “Hungry? Eat a banker” contrasted with sometimes violent confrontations in cities such as New York and Oakland, California. Workers in protective suits soon moved in to clean.
“Anybody who went through that park, it was and is a public-health hazard,” Villaraigosa, 58, said today at a news briefing. He praised the officers involved, saying the action may have been “the finest moment of the Los Angeles Police Department.” There were no major injuries.
“This was truly an exemplary operation,” the mayor said.
Cost of Protest
The cost of policing the demonstration and restoring the site may exceed $1 million, Villaraigosa said. “We’re all going to pay for it in tough, tough economic times,” he said.
Villaraigosa, a Democrat, offered protesters office space and farmland if they agreed to leave on Nov. 22. That proposal was rejected by a vote of those assembled the following day, according to the group’s website.
Chris No, a police spokesman, said 1,400 officers were on call for the Los Angeles operation.
Among the protesters was David Vargas, 28, of Norwalk, California, who said he’d been at the encampment for a month. Asked his occupation, he threw up his arms and said, “I give love.” He said he planned to run before getting arrested.
“I’m here to know that I stood up in the fight for good against evil,” he said. “I’m here to change the world. This is my opportunity.”
Activists sought to keep the movement going.
“Yesterday was about a police action, today it’s about why these people were there in the first place,” Jonathan Klein, a rabbi and executive director of Los Angeles-based Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, said today at a news briefing outside City Hall.
Bank of America
“I hope we can take this to new places, like the Bank of America plazas and other places where greed is dominant,” Klein said. “We intend to move this forward and take it any place the cause is justified.”
Scott Silvestri, a Bank of America Corp. spokesman in Charlotte, North Carolina, didn’t immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment.
Mario Brito, an organizer of the encampment, asked Villaraigosa to support a “responsible banking act” that would shift public funds from those “responsible for the financial crisis to community banks.” He also called for a national moratorium on foreclosures.
“City Hall was a potent symbol,” Brito said. “We feel the pain of being evicted from our home for 60 days. But it does not compare to the pain” of those removed from their residences, he said.
Villaraigosa said he expects more protests and urged participants to avoid violence.
“This movement should not be about defending a particular piece of park land, it should be about spreading the message of social justice,” the mayor told reporters. “If the movement is to move beyond this stage, it must do so peacefully.”
Protesters in Philadelphia also were removed more than two days after Mayor Michael Nutter’s deadline had passed to vacate Dilworth Plaza outside City Hall. Police arrived about 1:20 a.m. local time today and cleared the area in less than an hour, said Officer Christine O’Brien, a spokeswoman.
One of the 52 arrested was charged with assault after an officer’s hand was injured, she said by telephone. A protester reported that a horse had stepped on her foot, O’Brien said.
The removal was a “tremendously well-planned and well-executed operation” that was weeks in the making, Nutter said at a news briefing.
Heavy equipment swept the plaza, removing 27 tons of rubbish, said Mark McDonald, a Nutter spokesman. By 8:30 a.m., tents and pallets were gone and gloved workers were scratching off tape and remnants of signs and graffiti on the concrete. A man driving by honked his car’s horn and gave police officers a thumbs-up sign of approval.