LOS ANGELES — Police in Los Angeles and Philadelphia stormed Occupy Wall Street encampments under darkness Wednesday to arrest or drive out some of the longest-lasting protesters since crackdowns ended similar occupations across the country.
Dozens of officers in riot gear flooded down the steps of Los Angeles 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.
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. 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.
In the first moments of the raid, officers tore down a tent and tackled a tattooed man with a camera on City Hall steps and wrestled him to the ground. Someone yelled “police brutality.”
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.
Opamago Cascini, 29, said the night had been a blast and he was willing to get arrested.
“It’s easy to talk the talk, but you gotta walk the walk,” Cascini said.
At least two dozen people had been arrested in the first two hours and police said they planned to arrest the 75 people remaining in the park. Police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said one person was arrested for violence against a police officer, but Smith couldn’t provide details.
Police used a cherry picker to pluck five men from trees. Two others were in a tree house – one wore a crown and another taunted police with an American flag.
In Philadelphia, police began pulling down tents at about 1:20 a.m. EST 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.
Demonstrators and city officials in both Los Angeles and Philadelphia were hoping any confrontation would be nonviolent, unlike evictions at similar camps around the country that sometimes involved pepper spray and tear gas. The movement against economic disparity and perceived corporate greed began with Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan two months ago.
About 1,200 Los Angeles officers staged for hours outside Dodger Stadium before the raid. They were warned that demonstrators might throw everything from concrete and gravel to human feces at them.
“Please put your face masks down and watch each other’s back,” a supervisor told them. “Now go to work.”
Before police arrived in large numbers, protesters were upbeat and the mood was almost festive. A protester in a Santa Claus hat danced in the street. A woman showed off the reindeer antlers she had mounted on her gas mask.
Some were smoking pot, some were carrying gas masks, others wore hoodies and had bandanas around their faces. Some protesters carried lit candles and held signs saying “Defend Occupy LA.”
Fireworks exploded in the sky at one point. Later, as helicopters hovered above, someone blew “The Star Spangled Banner” on a horn.
As officers first surrounded the camp, hundreds of protesters chanted, “The people united will never be defeated.”
Campers planning to defend the camp and hold their ground barricaded entrances to the park with trash cans.
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.”
Neiman said the force was prepared to deal with demonstrators holed up in the camp or those who had climbed up trees in the small park.
Gia Trimble, member of the Occupy LA media team, said a lot of people committed to the cause would stay and risk arrest.
“This is a monumental night for Los Angeles,” Trimble said. “We’re going to do what we can to protect the camp.”
In their anticipation of an eviction, the Los Angeles protesters designated medics designated with red crosses taped on clothing. Some protesters had gas masks.
Organizers at the camp packed up computer and technical equipment from the media tent.
Two men who constructed an elaborate tree house lashed bamboo sticks together with twine to push away any ladder police might use to evict them.
Police said they would be able to remove the tree climbers.
Members of the National Lawyers guild had legal observers on hand for an eviction.