Los Angeles, Nov 30: In a massive show of force, 1,400 police officers stormed the Occupy Los Angeles camp early Wednesday, driving protesters from the park and arresting more than 200 who defied orders to leave. Similar raids in Philadelphia led to 50 arrests, but the scene in both cities was relatively peaceful.
Police in Los Angeles and Philadelphia moved in on Occupy Wall Street encampments under darkness Wednesday in an effort to clear out some of the longest-lasting protest sites since crackdowns ended similar occupations across the country.
Police had cleared camps in New York and other cities earlier, arguing that the camping created health hazards and interfered with local commerce.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck praised the officers and the protesters for their restraint and the peaceful way the eviction was carried out.
Officers flooded down the steps of City Hall just after midnight and started dismantling the two-month-old camp two days after a deadline passed for campers to leave the park. Officers in helmets and wielding batons and guns with rubber bullets converged on the park from all directions with military precision and began making arrests after several orders were given to leave.
There were no injuries and no drugs or weapons were found during a search of the emptied camp which was strewn with garbage after the raid. City workers put up concrete barriers to wall off the park while it's restored.
The raid in Los Angeles came after demonstrators with the movement in Philadelphia marched through the streets after being evicted from their site. About 40 protesters were arrested after refusing to clear a street several blocks northeast of City Hall, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said. They were lined up in cuffs and loaded on to buses by officers. Six others were arrested earlier after remaining on a street police that police tried to clear.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa raised public safety and health concerns in announcing plans for the eviction last week, while Philadelphia officials said protesters must clear their site to make room for a $50 million renovation project.
Defiant Los Angeles campers who were chanting slogans as the officers surrounded the park, booed when an unlawful assembly was declared, paving the way for officers to begin arresting those who didn't leave.
Teams of four or five officers moved through the crowd making arrests one at a time, cuffing the hands of protesters with white plastic zip-ties. A circle of protesters sat with arms locked, many looking calm and smiling.
In Philadelphia, police began pulling down tents early Wednesday after giving demonstrators three warnings that they would have to leave, which nearly all of the protestors followed. Dozens of demonstrators then began marching through the streets and continued through the night.
Ramsey said breaking up the camp in the early-morning hours helped minimize any disruption to businesses and traffic.
“We acknowledge the fact that we are going to have to leave this space .... but in another sense this has been our home for almost two months and no one wants to see their home taken away from them,” Philadelphia protestor Bri Barton, 22, said before police began clearing out the camp.
“Whether or not we have this space or work in the city is nowhere near done,” she said.
The eviction overall appeared to have been carried out without any significant scuffles or violence.
In Los Angeles, the police operation was planned at night because downtown is mostly vacant, with offices closed, fewer pedestrians and less traffic, but a spokesman said it could make officers more vulnerable.
“It's more difficult for us to see things, to see booby traps,” Lt. Andy Neiman, told pool reporters. “Operating in the dark is never an advantage.”