Federal authorities Saturday moved into the Occupy D.C. site at McPherson Square, clearing out a number of tents but stopping short of putting an end to the 4-month-old protest. At least six people were reportedly arrested, four for refusing a police order to move and two others for crossing a police line.
Police showed up before dawn on horseback and in riot gear to enforce a ban on camping in the park. "This is not an eviction,'' Sgt. David Schlosser of the U.S. Park Police told reporters at McPherson Square.
The raid appeared to launch a containment strategy by the police. By midafternoon, the tents had been squeezed into the north half of the park, and workers were removing debris from the cleared area, which was sealed off by dozens of police, some on horseback.
The new, smaller area for the tents was encircled by steel barricades, though gaps were left for access.
Protesters complied with a police request to remove a blue tarp -- dubbed the "tent of dreams'' by demonstrators. But for the most part they appeared unimpressed by the police move, or even quietly pleased, as if the authoritarian petting-zoo feel it gave to the place reflected poorly on their oppressors.
To be sure, the streets of downtown Washington around McPherson did take on the look of a police state. District police shut down several blocks surrounding the area, snarling traffic and leaving an empty business district awash in flashing blue lights, save people headed in on foot to see what was happening.
Dozens of officers were stationed along the new "border" within the square, and although they were technically in riot gear, it was more the business casual version -- a smart, dark blue uniform under a shiny light blue helmet, with face shield up, but ready if needed. So far, it hadn’t been needed. Some were chatting with onlookers.
A bit farther back was the cavalry, a dozen officers on horses whose duty, at the moment, was to keep open a path for a garbage truck backing in to pick up debris.
A few occupiers were handling the daily duty of yelling loudly to passersby, with the theme of the moment being a demand that each park police officer identify himself and who he was working for. But the vast majority were just hanging out, many of them occupied in interviews with the media. No one seemed itching for a showdown.
One occupier, on his cellphone, could be overheard saying, “It’s not the apocalypse, man.”
The protesters can maintain a 24-hour vigil in McPherson Square and another Occupy DC site at nearby Freedom Plaza, but cannot sleep there, according to the National Park Service, which has come under pressure from congressional Republicans to enforce the sleeping ban. Tents can remain as symbols of the protest.
Washington officials have complained about a rat infestation at the McPherson Square encampment as well as a more than $1.6-million cost to the city from the Occupy D.C. protest.
In response to Saturday's enforcement action, one Occupy D.C. protester tweeted: "If the govt enforced banking regs like NPS does camping rules, we wouldn't be in this mess. Bankers arrested for fraud: still 0."
-- Richard Simon and David Meeks in Washington, D.C.
Photo: U.S. Park Police clear the Occupy D.C. encampment at McPherson Square on Saturday in Washington. Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images