Occupy L.A.: More than 200 arrested in peaceful sweep
Without resorting to large-scale violence, Los Angeles police successfully cleared out the Occupy L.A. camp at City Hall early Wednesday, managing to avoid fierce confrontations that marred sweeps in Oakland and New York.
Hundreds of police officers swarmed the large camp at City Hall’s south lawn shortly after midnight, encircling the demonstrators in less than 10 minutes. By quickly establishing a perimeter, police managed to take control of the scene in the first moments of engagement.
No tear gas was used in the shutdown of what was the nation's largest remaining Occupy camp. More than 200 people were arrested in the operation that involved 1,400 officers.
“They were like storm troopers. They encircled us,” said protester Cheryl Aichele, who was sitting in the middle of the south lawn in a circle with other protesters when police first entered the camp.
The protesters largely kept to their promise of confronting the police peacefully. While some taunted police verbally and a few rocks were thrown, most protesters either left on their own or nonviolently submitted to arrest, with many going limp and forcing the police to carry them out.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck was satisfied in the first few moments after the raid.
“That was the hardest part,” Beck said of the first rush of officers into the park. “That first contact: You learn if your officers are going to break ranks and if people are going to get physical. It went as well as we could have expected.”
In a matter of minutes, officers poured out of City Hall and from streets in all directions, encircling the park as protesters linked arms and chanted, "We are peaceful" and "We are the 99%."
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appeared proud and relieved after the eviction, and thanked officers in a brief predawn news conference.
“I said that here in L.A., we’d chart a different path. And we did,” Villaraigosa said.
Speaking with the mayor, Beck said he had established a relationship with the protesters early on in the seven-week demonstration.
Most protesters seemed to eschew violence, and downtown did not see any of the violence of the kind that erupted in Oakland last month, when protesters started fires, police used tear gas and some protesters suffered serious injuries.
By early Wednesday, the last remaining protesters had holed up in a palm tree just outside Villaraigosa's office. The protesters smoked cigars as they joked with police, at one point asking police to bring them beer.
The moment spoke to the generally light tone of the eviction. Moments before police entered the park, protesters were setting off fireworks. After they entered, a man who refused to leave told an officer: "If you give me a hug, I will leave right now."
"Are you serious?" the officer asked with a smile. He appeared for a moment ready to comply, but then moved away.
Still, there were some moments of tension. A confrontation built early in the evening on the corner of 1st Street and Broadway, where a crowd approaching from the west, seeking to join protesters at City Hall, was stopped by a line of police wearing face masks and armed with batons.
On Main Street, one protester yelled at police: "Remember your mother! You're not here to beat up citizens."
Twenty-eight-year-old Sam Gray, an Army veteran, said he is angry that the city "took its word back."
"I took an oath to uphold the Constitution and in my opinion, the police are trampling on it," he said.
Toward the end of the operation, a large group of protesters that had locked arms in the middle of the south lawn chanted to police making arrests: “You’re sexy. You’re cute. Take off your riot suit.”
Earlier in the night, at the police staging area outside Dodger Stadium, a supervisor told a group of officers that they needed to be prepared for some protesters to fight back.
"They've got a bunch of concrete gravel and other [things] they're going to throw at us," he said. "Please put your face masks down and watch each other's back."
Amid fears protesters had stored urine and feces to throw at officers, some were wearing white protective body suits.
The conclusion of the raid marked the end of a two-month tent city that the City Council initially welcomed, with then-Council President Eric Garcetti telling protesters they could "stay as long as you need."
But city leaders began withdrawing their support as the demonstrators seemed determined to stay indefinitely.
By 5 a.m., the protest site was in shambles, and what was left of the tents was strewn across the ground.
-- Kate Linthicum, Joel Rubin and Andrew Blankstein
Photo: The remnants of the Occupy L.A. encampment at City Hall. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times