Villaraigosa, Beck start countdown to Occupy L.A. closure
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ordered the shutdown of the Occupy L.A. encampment on City Hall grounds at 12:01 a.m. Monday, saying officials can no longer “maintain the public safety of a long-term encampment,” according to a statement issued Friday.
Villaraigosa said the city’s General Services Police Department, which enforces the law in city parks, will walk through the encampment handing out bilingual fliers and give verbal notice that the park will close. Social workers will also visit the encampment, according to the statement.
“Occupy LA has brought needed attention to the growing disparities in our country and I look forward to its ongoing efforts to build an economy that works for everyone,” Villaraigosa said in his statement, handed to reporters at 4:30 p.m. “As we continue to respect the exercise of everyone’s First Amendment rights in our civic center and throughout Los Angeles, City Hall Park is temporarily closing out of concern for the public safety implications of a long-term encampment.”
As the statement was distributed, protesters chanted outside City Hall, a noise that reverberated throughout the building’s third floor, where the news conference was being held.
At first, city officials welcomed the protest, which has also won backing from local labor unions. In October, the Los Angeles City Council passed a motion in support of the demonstration, and on one wet morning, Villaraigosa’s office handed out rain slickers to soaked protesters.
But the political tide inside City Hall has since turned against those camped just outside. The shift was driven largely by concerns about damage to the lawn and a spike in crime at the camp.
Late last month Villaraigosa announced that the camp “cannot continue indefinitely” and said officials were working with protesters to plot the demonstration’s next move. Many other cities, including New York, Portland, Ore., and Oakland, have instructed police to clear Occupy encampments.
Police in Los Angeles seem determined to avoid the clashes seen in other cities. They have held regular meetings with several Occupy protesters, including a representative from the National Lawyers Guild, since the protest began.
Other protesters have complained that those representatives don’t speak for everyone and have dismissed the meetings as going against the demonstration’s democratic principles and “horizontal” organizing structure.
On Thursday Occupy L.A. released its first official statement to the city, rejecting a reported city proposal of work space and land –- and vowing to stay camped out on the lawn until their grievances were addressed. According to protester Ruth Fowler, the statement was written collaboratively by several hundred protesters and was approved with 100% consensus during Wednesday's general assembly meeting.
-- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall