Police evict 'Occupy LA' protesters

Activists defied a midnight deadline to vacate eight-week-old encampment; demonstrator block traffic; police ready to make arrests.

Occupy LA 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/David McNew)
Occupy LA 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/David McNew)
LOS ANGELES - Police in riot gear began closing in on anti-Wall Street activists early on Monday after they defied a midnight deadline to vacate an eight-week-old encampment outside Los Angeles City Hall.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had given Occupy LA protesters until just after midnight to dismantle their tents, pack up their belongings and clear out of the City Hall park, or face forcible removal.
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Police, who had kept mostly out of sight during the day, began to make their presence known as the eviction deadline came and went. The mood of the protesters, which had been calm and celebratory, turned edgy and more boisterous.
The Los Angeles encampment is among the oldest and largest on the West Coast aligned with a two-month-old national Occupy Wall Street movement protesting economic inequality, high unemployment and the excesses of the US financial system.
Staking its place since October 1 on the grounds surrounding City Hall, the compound had grown to roughly 400 tents and 700 to 800 people, organizers and municipal officials said. At least a third were believed to be homeless people.
By Sunday night the size of the crowd outside City Hall had swelled to about 2,000 as supporters from organized labor, clergy, civil rights and other groups streamed into the area, answering a call for a show of support for the campers.
Shortly after midnight, throngs of demonstrators began blocking traffic along a street running between City Hall and the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters across the street, finally moving to take over an entire intersection.
Another group of protesters left City Hall and marched up another street. They were met by a phalanx of officers wearing helmets, carrying night sticks and what appeared to be tear gas rifles, and others arriving in patrol cars and on motorcycles.
Police hope to avoid violence, prepared to make arrests
Some in the crowd advanced to the line of police, shouting "We are peaceful!" at the officers, who held their positions.
At the blocked intersection, police began to push back protesters but had not yet moved to evict or arrest anyone from inside the encampment shortly after the city's deadline for protesters to leave.
Police Commander Andrew Smith said officers were prepared to make arrests if necessary but declined to disclose their tactical plans to reporters.
Hours earlier, the mayor issued a statement saying the park "will officially close tonight," but that police would allow campers ample time to remove their belongings peacefully.
"I wouldn't leave if they tell me to leave," said Jennifer Mawias, 24, who identified herself as a two-month veteran of the camp. Dressed in a black leather jacket with a black bandanna over her nose and mouth, Mawias said she was ready to be arrested even though she was due at work in the morning.
Another protester who identified himself only as David, 23, said, "I'm not a pacifist, I don't believe in peace." He added, "I have a gas mask." Asked if he were willing to be arrested, he replied: "They have to catch me first."
Occupy LA campers spent much of the weekend removing and placing into storage their more valuable equipment to keep it from being damaged or confiscated, including an array of solar panels, power generators, computers and a makeshift library.
Los Angeles has been relatively accommodating to its Occupy group compared to other major cities, with Villaraigosa at one point providing ponchos to campers when it rained.
But after the collapse of negotiations aimed at persuading protesters to relocate, the mayor said the encampment would have to go. He said he hoped to avoid violence that erupted in other cities when police used force against Occupy protesters.
Tim Trepanier, 43, a welcome tent volunteer from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, said decisions on whether to obey the Los Angeles eviction order were being left to individuals.
Many protesters attended ad-hoc training sessions on civil disobedience and by early Monday some were wearing gas masks.
Diana Vance, 55, a media volunteer from Los Angeles, said members of the group were committed to nonviolence but added: "I'm thinking the general mood is, 'Come get us.'"