LOS ANGELES — The mayor of Los Angeles set a deadline for anti-Wall Street protesters to leave an encampment by City Hall, while demonstrators elsewhere in California took their message about corporate greed to Black Friday shoppers, at times facing off with police.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa lauded the Occupy movement for “awakening the country’s conscience,” but he said that after 56 days, the encampments that flank the two grassy areas adjacent to City Hall must be removed by 12:01 a.m. Monday for public health and safety reasons.
At an afternoon news conference with police Chief Charlie Beck, Villaraigosa said the movement that has spread in two months from New York to numerous other U.S. cities has “awakened the country’s conscience” — but also trampled grass at City Hall that must be restored.
“The movement is at a crossroads,” the mayor said. “It is time for Occupy LA to move from holding a particular patch of park land to spreading the message of economic justice and signing more people up for the push to restore the balance to American society.”
The camp of about 485 tents was unsustainable because public health and safety could not be maintained, and the park had to be cleared, cleaned and restored for the public’s access, he said.
Later Friday, protesters demonstrated in the streets near San Francisco’s tony and touristy Union Square during the annual Macy’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony, disrupting traffic but otherwise causing few other problems.
Lines of police officers in riot gear faced off with dozens of demonstrators who were trying to discourage shoppers from shopping at Macy’s and other stores in the popular tourist area.
Demonstrators used signs to spread an anti-consumerism message. One, 9-year-old Jacob Hamilton, held a sign that read, “What is in your bag that’s more important than my education?”
Earlier, some of the protesters from the Occupy movements in San Francisco and Oakland clashed with police when they briefly blocked the city’s iconic cable cars until officers pushed them out of the street.
Some of the participants in what protesters called “Don’t Buy Anything Day” sat down in the middle of Market Street, San Francisco’s main thoroughfare, and blocked traffic while chanting, “Stop shopping and join us!”
“I wanted us both to be here for the children,” said protester Steve Hamilton, a screenwriter who traveled to the city from Winters, Calif., with his son Jacob. “I see how the education deficit directly affects the schools; how the teachers struggle with so many kids in the classrooms and a lack of books. It’s not fair to this generation.”
A group of about 20 Occupy protesters in Sacramento marched from a park to a small outdoor mall where many of the storefronts are empty. A police officer on a bicycle trailed the crowd.
A few puzzled shoppers, many toting large shopping bags, stopped to stare at the crowd as they read a manifesto asking people to support local merchants.
At a Macy’s store, the group stayed for several minutes chanting slogans such as, “They call it profit; we call it robbery.” Several shoppers crowded around taking photos with their cellphones.
In Emeryville, a small city on San Francisco Bay, more than 60 people attended a Native American community’s 10th annual Black Friday protest of the Bay Street Mall.
Corrina Gould, a lead organizer for Indian People Organizing for Change, said the goal is to educate shoppers that the mall was built in 2002 on a sacred Ohlone burial site.
About one-third of the people came from neighboring Oakland’s Occupy movement, and Gould said having the new voices was invigorating.
In his comments, Villaraigosa told campers to start packing up their tents and said he believed the move would be peaceful, unlike some of the tumult other cities have seen.
“I’m proud of the fact that this has been a peaceful, non-violent protest,” he said. “I trust that we can manage the closure of City Hall Park in the same spirit of cooperation.”
Outside City Hall, Occupy LA protester Opamago Casciani, 20, said he found the Mayor’s priorities insulting, and he intends to continue demonstrating peacefully through the deadline.
In response to the Mayor’s comments, Casciani said “What I got from it is ‘I value grass more than the people.'”
Beck said police will be patient with laggards who were working to leave at the time of the deadline — but said the city’s law enforcement will no longer look the other way.
“After 56 days of not enforcing three city laws that prohibit the use of that park, the time is now,” said Beck.