Occupy Pittsburgh goes quietly as D.C., Oakland resist

 Occupy PittsburghWith a Monday deadline to dismantle its camp, supporters of Occupy Pittsburgh began dismantling tents and removing other fixtures in place more than three months after the bank that owns the land sued to reclaim it. But protesters in Oakland and in Washington, D.C., remained defiant. 

At least 11 people were arrested in Washington's McPherson Square since police over the weekend began clearing tents from the site, Associated Press reported. One of those arrested had been charged with felony assault on a police officer after allegedly hitting the officer in the face with a brick Saturday night, police told the AP.

Occupy Oakland supporters planned a day of action Monday, and dozens marched in the city on Saturday. There was no repeat of the violence that erupted a week earlier, when some protesters clashed with police and hundreds were arrested.

Since the Occupy movement began in mid-September with the original Occupy Wall Street protesters camping in a small park in Lower Manhattan, police and mayors have faced the challenge of enforcing no-camping rules in most parks and city squares even as they proclaim their support of freedom of speech and assembly.

In instances in which the occupied parks are private, that challenge has fallen to the property owners. That was the case in Pittsburgh's Mellon Green park, which is owned by the Bank of New York Mellon Corp.

The bank posted an eviction notice in the park in December, two months after people began camping there round-the-clock on Oct. 15. The notice said that the use of generators, propane heaters and other equipment intended to keep campers warm as winter arrived created hazardous conditions in the park -- the same argument used by officials who have closed Occupy camps elsewhere, including in Manhattan and Philadelphia.

After protesters ignored the bank's Dec. 11 deadline to leave, officials sued to get the protesters out, and a judge on Thursday upheld the eviction order and gave campers three days to vacate. 

Jeff Cech of Occupy Pittsburgh said about half of the estimated 50 tents had been taken down by Sunday night and that no clashes were anticipated with police, AP reported. "I think that everyone here realizes that after [Monday] the encampment will not be here," Cech said, according to AP. "It's not going to be about trying to hold the ground."

But WTAE, the local NBC affiliate, said some people were not convinced that they should go quietly. "I do understand that there has been some talk by some members of Occupy Pittsburgh about doing some civil disobedience, but it's all up in the air, and it's all up to them personally," protester Carmon Elliot told WTAE. "We'll see what happens. Stay tuned, as they say."


Two cruise ships hit by norovirus

Nebraska buried in snow as storm moves on

Explosion kills man suspected in wife's 2009 disappearance

-- Tina Susman in New York

Photo: Isaac Hill of Industry, Pa., helps break down the Occupy Pittsburgh encampment in Mellon Green park. Credit: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press


Occupy D.C.: Police cut size of camp, stop short of clearing it

Occupy DC
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."


Super Bowl 2012: Tour the stadium this way -- it's cheaper

Vermont police find, belatedly, that inmates put pig on car decal

Komen backlash: Public turns fury on vice president Karen Handel

-- 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

Judge tells officials to give notice before clearing Occupy D.C.

A federal judge has given protesters at the Occupy D.C. site some breathing room, ruling Tuesday that authorities must give notice before trying to evict demonstrators from a downtown park in the nation’s capital.

The widely reported decision by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg came as the National Park Service has begun enforcing a camping ban at one of the few remaining Occupy sites in the nation. At the Occupy demonstrations' peak last fall, tens of thousands of protesters around the country occupied public areas to protest income inequality, corporate greed, rising debts and government shortcomings in dealing with a fractured economy.

The Washington, D.C., protest is centered at McPherson Square, blocks from the White House.

Earlier Tuesday, officials from the National Park Service arrived at the protest site to ask that the large blue tarpaulin draped over the statue of Civil War Gen. James McPherson and known as the “tent of dreams,” be taken down. They also asked that protesters comply with new regulations prohibiting bedding at the site, according to a posting at the Occupy website.

Protesters refused and called for a General Assembly of demonstrators to discuss their next step. Government officials have said there is no timetable for clearing the area, also known as Freedom Square.

Under the latest court ruling, authorities cannot seize tents unless there are violations of law or the anti-camping regulations. Nor can the park service close the protest site without prior notification, unless there is an emergency.


Occupy D.C. protest draws congressional scrutiny

Occupy D.C. protesters warned: Stop camping or risk arrest

Tensions run high at Occupy D.C. site in anticipation of crackdown

-- Michael Muskal

Photo: A "V for Vendetta" Guy Fawkes mask is set on the statue of Civil War Gen. James B. McPherson at McPherson Square by Occupy D.C. Police on Tuesday ordered protesters to pull down a "tent of dreams" it had erected the day before. Credit:  Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images


Tensions run high at Occupy D.C. site in anticipation of crackdown

Tensions run high at Occupy D.C. site in anticipation of crackdown

Tensions ran high at an Occupy D.C. site Monday as protesters vowed to defy a federal crackdown on camping in a small park near the White House.

Signs like "Eviction? Bring It" and "You can’t evict an idea" were posted on tents at McPherson Square, as a Monday noon deadline passed without incident.

Sgt. David Schlosser of the U.S. Park Police said Monday that officers are going tent-to-tent explaining "our expectations for compliance with the regulations." But by early afternoon Monday, police had yet to move through the park to remove bedding.

PHOTOS: Occupy D.C.

Earlier, scores of protesters demonstrated before a large crowd of media and office workers, many in business suits who wandered by during their lunch break.

Protesters pulled a blue tarp with the words "Tent of Dreams" over a statue of Civil War Gen. James McPherson and chanted: "Get up, Get down, There’s a revolution in this town." One sign read: "I'm dreaming....of my First Amendment rights."

The protesters can maintain a 24-hour vigil in McPherson Square and another Occupy D.C. 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.

Occupy DC said in a statement that they will "peacefully resist this politically motivated attempt to suppress the free speech of the disenfranchised 99%."

Another sign on a tent read: "This is a workspace."

Washington officials have complained about a rat infestation at the McPherson Square encampment as well as more than $1.6-million cost to the city from the Occupy D.C. protest.


Occupy D.C. protesters warned: Stop camping or risk arrest

Super Bowl 2012: Matthew Broderick channels Ferris Bueller in ad

East Haven, Conn., police chief resigns amid Latino-abuse scandal

-- Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: A man walks in front of a sign advising of a noon deadline to remove camping materials from the Occupy D.C. encampment in McPherson Square on Monday. Credit: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images 

A vow against gentrification: Seattle woman 'marries' a warehouse

Woman marries a Seattle warehouse.
Marry a warehouse? There may be some women who can't much tell the difference between the football-watching lump in the living room and a storage shed, but an Occupy Seattle protester decided to take the metaphor a step further over the weekend when she married the abandoned building at 10th and Union.

The old warehouse, occupied not long ago by anti-corporate protesters in an attempt to reclaim it as a community center, is slated for demolition to make way for a new apartment complex.

"If corporations can have the [same] rights as people, so can buildings," Baylonia Aivaz told Seattle's KOMO-TV in a reference to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the door to nearly unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns.

"I'm doing this to show the building how much I love it, how much I love community space and how much I love this neighborhood. And I want to stop it from gentrification," said Aivaz, clad in a long white wedding dress and standing near a bulldozer as a ukulele player strummed "Lean on Me."

A graduate of Rancho Palos Verdes High School in Los Angeles and Duke University, Aivaz said on her Facebook event page that the 200 Occupy Seattle protesters who occupied the building had hoped the 107-year-old warehouse could have been used as a place for communal art displays, free child care or other community services.

"The moment we entered the warehouse we became a true community. We became self-motivated. We worked co-operatively," she wrote on the page, which also featured photos of the blessed event. "We explored 36,000 square feet like children, giggling and dreaming at the possibility of all that space. We played with conveyer belts, riding up and down. The kind you always want to sit on in the airport luggage dispensers. We strung up lights.... We removed pounds and pounds of unnecessary building materials.... We dreamed."

Sunday's "gay marriage" (presumably because the building had the female vibe, not to mention that a same-sex marriage bill is pending in the Washington legislature) was to point out that the new luxury apartments will render the city's funky Capitol Hill neighborhood, as Aivaz put it, "even more unaffordable."

Too late, though. As KOMO reported, the bulldozers are already on the move.


Embattled police chief in Connecticut town resigns

Defendant in Alabama case found dead on eve of re-trial

Uggs banned at Pennsylvania school to prevent gadget smugglers

-- Kim Murphy in Seattle

Photo: Occupy Seattle protester Baylonia Aivaz, shown here in a photo from her Facebook event page, "marries" an old warehouse in Seattle.

Occupy D.C. protesters warned: Stop camping or risk arrest

Federal authorities, under pressure to crack down on the 4-month-old Occupy D.C. encampments, warned protesters Friday that they must stop camping in two parks near the White House or risk arrest

Federal authorities, under pressure to crack down on the 4-month-old Occupy D.C. encampments, warned protesters Friday that they must stop camping in two parks near the White House or risk arrest.

Authorities distributed fliers advising protesters that the U.S. Park Police on Monday will begin enforcing a ban on camping in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza.

"If camping violations are observed, individual violators may be subject to arrest and their property subject to seizure as evidence," the fliers warned. "Any temporary structure used for camping also will be subject to seizure as an abatement of a public nuisance."

The warning comes days after Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, lashed out at National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis for "turning a blind eye'' to lawbreaking in McPherson Square.

Washington officials have complained about rat infestation at the McPherson Square encampment as well as more than $1.6-million cost to the city from the Occupy D.C. protest. D.C. Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Barbara Lang wrote this week on her blog that the protest has become "a burden on our city's economy," hurting businesses and residents who are "all a part of the 99 percent."

A crackdown on camping won't necessarily end the protest or even lead to removal of all the tents.

Park Service officials have said the protesters have a 1st Amendment right to stage a 24-hour vigil in the parks. Jarvis told a House hearing earlier this week that although camping is prohibited, "temporary structures, including tents, are permissible as part of a demonstration." Authorities will have to figure out which tents are being used for sleeping, possibly by the presence of bedding. 

The Park Service "has a long and proud tradition of providing opportunities for the exercise of First Amendment rights, but it also is obligated to protect our important cultural and natural resources," say the fliers distributed to protesters.

Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said the enforcement action has been in the "planning process for some time as part of our measured and progressive approach" for enforcing the camping ban while protecting 1st Amendment-protected activities.


2 students charged in plot to blow up high school in Roy, Utah

Bill to require steel pennies, nickels makes cents, says sponsor

"Most hated" man in America gets death in home-invasion killings 

-- Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: A sign at the Occupy D.C. encampment in McPherson Square in Washington. Credit: Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty Images

Occupy D.C. protest draws congressional scrutiny

The head of the National Park Service on Tuesday defended his decision to allow Occupy D.C. protesters to remain in a park near the White House, where they have camped out for nearly four months, in the face of congressional Republican criticism that he was "turning a blind eye" to lawbreakers.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista.), chairman of the House oversight committee, assailed Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis for permitting the tent city at McPherson Square in spite of a ban on camping at the park.

"I find it curious that tourists cannot come and pitch a tent in McPherson Square if they're camping for fun, but if they're camping in protest of fun, the National Park Service would welcome them," Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) added during a Capitol Hill hearing.

Park service officials have said the protest is more akin to a 24-hour vigil, allowed under park rules.

Jarvis acknowledged that some protesters were sleeping in the park, but said their protest was an example of a tradition of demonstrations in the nation’s capital –- more than 600 on the National Mall last year –- protected by the 1st Amendment.

"I could care less what their cause is," Jarvis told lawmakers. "My job, as a 35-year veteran of the National Park Service, is to protect the individuals' rights under the 1st Amendment."

But he also indicated that the park service would be moving soon to enforce the camping prohibition. "We've given them plenty of warning," he said.

While Occupy D.C. protesters were not invited to testify, Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) read a statement   from the demonstrators: "That we have to ask a member of Congress to speak for us here is symbolic of the disenfranchising top-down nature of the government that we're fighting to democratize."

The top Democratic on the oversight committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, observed: "I find it curious that this particular demonstration has risen to the level of a congressional hearing."

Washington officials have become increasingly concerned about the encampment at McPherson Square because of a rat infestation, colder weather and the expense, more than $1.6 million, to the city.


Occupy D.C. rat infestation prompts calls to clear out protest


4 Connecticut officers charged with depriving Latinos of rights

Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel seeks reduced murder sentence

-- Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: Three Washington officials, from left, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Paul Quander, Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Department of Health Director Mohammed Akhter, are sworn in at a Capitol Hill hearing Tuesday. With them are William and Mary law professor Timothy Zick, second from right, and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis. Credit: Evan Vucci / Associated Press

Occupy D.C. rat infestation prompts calls to clear out protesters

The rat infestation at Occupy D.C. has become so serious that protesters should be cleared out of their encampment at a federal park near the White House, said Washington Mayor Vincent C. Gray

The rat infestation at Occupy D.C. has become so serious that protesters should be cleared out of their encampment at a federal park near the White House, said Washington Mayor Vincent C. Gray.

Conditions at the encampment are a "threat to the health and safety of both protesters and district residents," Gray said in a letter to the National Park Service. "Rodents have been seen not only around the site, but inside tents and even in the food preparation area."

At a minimum, the mayor said, the protesters who have been living in tents at McPherson Square for more than three months should be consolidated with another encampment at nearby Freedom Plaza to allow crews to clean up the park and eliminate the rat infestation.

A report by the District of Columbia Health Department says Freedom Plaza is "the more organized’’ Occupy D.C. site, "with a greater attempt being made to adhere to good sanitary practices with waste disposal and food preparation."

Because McPherson Square is federal property, the decision rests with the park service. There was no immediate response from the agency to Gray's letter.

The mayor's office also is seeking reimbursement from Uncle Sam for its $1.6 million in costs, such as police patrols, in dealing with the Occupy D.C. sites.

Concerns about the McPherson Square site were further heightened this week after a 13-month-old baby was left alone in a tent at the encampment for at least half an hour with the temperature in the mid-40s.

Nearby protesters heard the infant crying and called police. A man who said he was her father has been charged with child cruelty.

The D.C. Health Department said in a report that although Occupy D.C protesters contend the man was not part of their group, "the ongoing mixture of homeless, people suffering from mental illness and protesters continues to exacerbate unsafe conditions" at the encampments.

The cold also is a growing concern, Gray said, noting that makeshift heaters that some protesters are using to heat tents have created the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

It's an awkward problem for Gray, a protester himself who was arrested last year at the U.S. Capitol, charged with blocking Constitution Avenue in an act of civil disobedience. He was among a group demonstrating against congressional dictates on the district, such as a measure preventing it from spending its own funds on abortions for low-income women. He said such measures "violated the rights of district residents to autonomy and self-determination."

Health officials have advised the protesters on how to keep sanitary conditions, and one Occupy D.C. demonstrator said earlier this week that those in the park are working to clean it. But he added, "There have always been rats in downtown D.C."

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has been upset about the encampment in a park that recently underwent $400,000 in taxpayer-funded improvements. He called Gray's description of the conditions at the McPherson Square "a blunt assessment of the situation created by the National Park Service's decision to ignore laws designed to protect the public.''

Issa has given the park service until Jan. 24 to explain how it concluded that the occupation is considered a "24-hour vigil," allowed under park rules, rather than camping, which is prohibited.


New York mayor bets a cheesecake on a Giants victory

WikiLeaks: Judge recommends court-martial for Bradley Manning

Canada-U.S. bridge: With work undone, billionaire and aide jailed

-- Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: The Occupy D.C. encampment in McPherson Square in Washington. Credit: Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty Images

Health officials concerned about rats at Occupy DC sites

Occupy DC has endured police patrols, the cold and scrutiny from California Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista).

But now, there's a potentially intractable foe: rats.

Washington, D.C., health officials have raised concerns about the proliferation of rats at the two encampments.

"As in any metro urban area, with lots of foot traffic, there’s going to be an issue of rats,’’ Washington health department spokeswoman Najma Roberts said in an interview Wednesday. "Since the Occupy movement, we have seen an increase in rats in both locations.’’

The Washington health director told the Washington Examiner that it may be necessary to remove tents from the Occupy camps, if only temporarily, to eradicate the infestation.

Pete Perry, a 41-year-old Occupy DC participant, acknowledged that rats are a problem at McPherson Square, a federal park near the White House. "There was a team of us that went through this morning cleaning as best we could,’’ he said.

But the Washington, D.C., native added, "There have always been rats in downtown DC.’’

Occupy protesters have also take over nearby Freedom Plaza.

The parks are under the control of the National Park Service. But health officials have visited the sites to distribute education materials and advise protesters on how to keep conditions sanitary.

The rat problem comes as Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, this week asked the Interior Department to explain how it concluded that the occupation is considered a "24-hour vigil,’’ allowed under park rules rather than the prohibited camping.

When Issa raised questions in December about the encampment, an Interior Department spokesman said, "The National Park Service and U.S. Park Police are firmly committed to upholding Americans' 1st Amendment rights while also enforcing our nation's laws, guarding public safety, and protecting the resources with which we are entrusted."

Dissatisfied with the Interior Department’s response, Issa this week sent another letter asking for, among other things, explanations of the legal difference between a "24-hour vigil" and "camping," and when, if ever, the park service plans to remove the protestors from the park.

An Interior Department official said in a letter to Issa this week that park service personnel have "at all times maintained a continuous law enforcement presence and constant patrols at McPherson Square in order to protect the health and safety of park visitors and demonstrators and have taken necessary action to protect public health and safety."

In response to Issa’s concerns about the effect of the encampment on the $400,000 in recent improvements to McPherson Square, paid for with economic stimulus funds, the Interior Department noted that 1st Amendment activities "often come with a measure of wear and tear on our national parks," but noted that only $8,000 was used to re-sod the park with new grass. The remainder was spent on hardscape improvements that "have not, to our knowledge, been damaged over the course of the demonstration."


Barricades removed from Occupy Wall Street Zuccotti Park

Exclusive Tennessee club accused of anti-Australian bias

Judge refuses to halt law banning Tucson ethnic studies program

-- Richard Simon in Washington, D.C.

Photo: A sign posted in the Occupy DC encampment in McPherson Square in Washington, D.C. Credit: Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty Images

Barricades removed from Occupy Wall Street Zuccotti Park

Barricades surrounding the park in lower Manhattan where the Occupy Wall Street movement was born were removed Tuesday, with considerable less commotion than when they were erected, enabling anti-greed protesters to easily return.

Just a few police officers and security guards were around as nearly 300 protesters filled the small park Tuesday night and settled in with lasagna served on paper plates, according to the Associated Press.

One protester tried to put up a tent but it was immediately removed by security guards.

New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne told the New York Daily News , "We determined [the barricades] were not needed."

On Nov. 15 when the barricades were first erected around the privately owned park, hundreds of police officers were on hand for a middle-of-the-night clearing of what had become a tent-city.

After the November raid on the encampment the owners closely controlled how the park was used banning sleeping bags and tents. Since then, protesters have continued to hold meetings in the park but have staged their activities in various locations in the area.

Mark Bray, a spokesman for the Occupy Wall Street organizers who had filed a lawsuit to resist the use of the barricades, told the A.P. that protesters would not attempt to camp out again at the park.

"The plan is not to create a new Zuccotti Park. The plan is to continue what we've been doing, which is having various events around foreclosures or around unemployment," said Bray.

In other Occupy Wall Street news, prosecutors dropped charges this week against nearly two dozen people detained in the first mass arrest on Sept. 24 when some protesters marched in the street around Union Square without a permit.

Nearly 50 other cases are still headed to trial.


Witnesses describe Occupy Wall Street raid in Zuccotti Park

Judge refuses to halt law banning Tuscon ethnic studies program

Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs' prison phone privleges are revoked

---Geraldine Baum

Photo: Security from the owners of Zuccotti Park stand next to barricades that were removed from the park's perimeter. Credit: Louis Lanzano / AP Photo


Recommended on Facebook

Your Hosts

Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

In Case You Missed It...