Occupy protesters gain ground in LA

By Andrew Dalton and Christine Hoag
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Wall Street protesters declared a minor victory Monday when they defied a midnight deadline to leave their tent city encampment around City Hall and police withdrew after surrounding the camp for six hours without moving in.

Although four people were arrested as police cleared downtown streets to make way for morning rush hour traffic, police said the event was largely peaceful.

Police Chief Charlie Beck said it remains unclear when the nearly two-month-old Occupy LA camp will finally be cleared. About half of the 485 tents had been taken down Sunday night, leaving patches of the 1.7-acre park around City Hall barren of grass and strewn with garbage.

“There is no concrete deadline,” Beck told reporters Monday morning after hundreds of officers withdrew without moving in on the camp. The chief said he wanted to make sure the removal will be done “with as little drama as possible.”

Protesters chanted “we won, we won” as riot-clad officers left the scene.

“I’m pretty much speechless,” said Clark Davis, media coordinator for Occupy LA.

Police turned back after hundreds of Occupy LA supporters showed up at the camp Sunday night as the midnight deadline for evacuation neared. But as the night drew on, many demonstrators left.

Protester Julie Levine said she was surprised that police did not move in as the numbers dwindled. “We were fearful,” she said. “But we held our numbers and police were on their best behavior.”

Protesters milling about the park and streets by City Hall seemed in good spirits following the retreat. A group on bicycles circled the block, one of them in a cow suit. Organizers led chants with a bull horn.

A police tactical alert was called that kept officers on overtime. Officers reopened the streets at around 6:30 a.m.

Though the protest was fairly uneventful, there were some skirmishes. Four people were arrested for failure to disperse and a few protesters tossed bamboo sticks and water bottles at officers, Smith said. No injuries were reported.

Both Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Beck said Monday morning that there was no firm deadline to remove the protesters despite the park’s closure.

“We want to make sure that everybody knows the park is closed and there are services available, that there are alternative ways to protest,” Villaraigosa said in an interview with MSNBC. “By the way, we will be opening up the steps of City Hall for protests, [the protesters] just can’t camp out.”

Villaraigosa, a former labor organizer, said earlier he sympathizes with the movement, but felt it was time to move beyond holding “a particular patch of park” because public health and safety there could not be sustained for a long period.

The Los Angeles showdown followed police action in other cities — sometimes involving the use of pepper spray and tear gas — that resulted in the clearing of other Occupy camps. Some encampments had been in use almost since the beginning of the Occupy movement, which seeks to combat economic disparity and corporate greed. The protests began with Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan two months ago.

Elsewhere, a deadline set by the city for Occupy Philadelphia to leave the site where it has camped for nearly two months passed Sunday without any arrests. Philadelphia’s protesters have managed to avoid aggressive confrontations so far.

But eight people were arrested in Maine Sunday after protesters in the Occupy Augusta encampment in Capitol Park took down their tents and packed their camping gear after being told to get a permit or move their shelters.

Some campers packed up their tents and belongings to avoid police trouble, but said they intended to return without them in support of their fellow protesters.

Scott Shuster was one of those breaking down his camp, but he said removing his gear only served to protect his property and he planned to remain.

“I just don’t want to lose my tent,” he said.

Others moved their tents to the sidewalk so they were technically out of the park.