Police could begin removing Occupy L.A. camp as early as midnight
Police officers were laying the groundwork Sunday morning for moving in to remove campers and demonstrators from the Occupy L.A. site around City Hall — an action that could take place just after midnight.
Two officers circulated through the 1.7 acres of green space Sunday morning, handing out fliers notifying demonstrators that their presence on the lawn violated two city ordinances, one that bans camping in city park space and another that sets legal hours of park use as 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Until now local authorities have tolerated and, at times, even commended the seven-week occupation — an extension of the Occupy Wall Street movement for economic justice that began in New York City’s financial district and spread across the county.
The encampment in Los Angeles is the largest remaining in the country. Camp removals in some places, including New York City, Oakland and UC Davis, have resulted in rough treatment of demonstrators by police who encountered resistance.
The two officers with fliers declined to give their first names but their badges identified them as officers Martinez and Wyno.
People accepted the fliers, but there was little interaction.
“I respect what you guys do,” one protester told the officers.
Los Angeles police have tried to live down a legacy that includes excessive use of force on peaceful demonstrators. The city has paid out more than $12 million in civil settlements since officers fired foam bullets and struck people with batons to disperse a crowd at a MacArthur Park rally for immigrant rights on May Day 2007.
On Thanksgiving, officers delivered two turkeys to the encampment. But on the same day, protesters booed when workers posted signs listing the park’s official hours of operation.
Officers moved slowly and carefully to make arrests when demonstrators recently shut down a busy downtown intersection. That incident concluded peacefully.
On Sunday, even police — at least at the street level — expressed uncertainty about what would happen at midnight, when the city officially wants protesters out. Occupy organizers said there are 543 tents and about 600 to 700 people at the site. Police said their count is about the same.
“We have absolutely no idea” what will happen, said Officer Wyno.
-- Teresa Watanabe and Howard Blume
Photo: A couple in their tent on the edge of the Occupy L.A camp in front of City Hall on Saturday. Credit: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times