Occupy Los Angeles was cleared by Los Angeles Police Department officers early Wednesday morning, bringing to an end what had been the most prominent and longest-standing of the Occupy encampments still in continuous operation.
Hundreds of LAPD officers in riot gear swarmed into City Hall Park just after midnight on Nov. 30 to clear the occupiers, whose numbers had swelled, perhaps to the thousands, thanks to the arrival of many supporters and sympathizers in advance of the midnight raid on the encampment.
The park had been occupied since Oct. 1 as part of the nationwide Occupy movement, a self-proclaimed leaderless movement organized to protest income inequality and other social ills.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had warned the protesters long before the late-night raid that the they could not stay on the lawn at City Hall Park indefinitely. The city initially set a deadline of Monday, Nov. 28, 12:01 am, which came and went—but in the days leading up to the raid, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck spoke to numerous media outlets about the methodical way his officers would clear the park—though when it would take place, he never specified.
Early Wednesday morning, the city and the police made good on their promises. The raid, which resulted in an estimated 200 arrests, was conducted methodically and—despite the presence of police in riot gear toting bean-bag rifles and other weapons—without more than a handful of injuries.
At 12:15 am on Wednesday, about two hours after closing down the streets surrounding City Hall, hundreds of LAPD in riot gear streamed into the park from all sides. The officers cleared the debris that had been assembled to block the pathways through the park, and then stood, with batons at the ready, in lines along those paths, dividing the camp into sections.
“This is what a police state looks like,” chanted the protesters. In the center of City Hall’s South Lawn, a group of about 75-100 protesters surrounded a single tent that had been draped with a small American flag.
By 12:40, an LAPD vehicle equipped with a microphone began rolling into the South Lawn, announcing, in English and Spanish, that those who did not clear the area would be in violation of the law and would be subject to arrest, and could be injured in the process.
It was at that point that most of those in the park—occupiers, their supporters, volunteer medical staff, legal observers and others—who had been made by police to stand on the elevated patches of dirt where the grass in the park used to be, headed out towards the surrounding streets, which were also being cordoned off by lines of LAPD officers in riot gear.
At that same time, the park was also cleared of most of the journalists who were there to cover the event. Continued access was limited to a handful number of newspaper, TV, and radio reporters and photographers who were allowed by the LAPD to “embed” themselves with the officers clearing the encampment.
Having had ample warning that a raid was coming, the occupiers had made attempts to ready themselves for the arrival of the LAPD. In addition to the 30 volunteer medical staff—who carried Maalox in case they needed to wash pepper spray out of the eyes of protesters—and a similar number of green-hatted legal observers on hand, occupiers were posted along the perimeter of the camp with walkie-talkies in an effort to stay informed of the LAPD officers’ movements.
Many occupiers said they had received some training in non-violent resistance techniques, and most of those at the center of the movement, the ones who had been living in City Hall Park for the nearly two-month-long occupation, said they were prepared to be arrested.
“We’re prepared to, 100 percent, because it’s important that they know that we’re serious that we will not move,” protester Joshua Taylor said before the raid. A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Taylor had been living at Occupy L.A. since the encampment was first established on Oct. 1, and he said he was willing to be arrested.
But he wasn’t necessarily asking to be arrested either.
“We’re going to be peaceful, so I’m hoping they’ll be peaceful,” Taylor said.
There were an estimated 150 tents at Occupy L.A. on Tuesday evening before the raid, and for the homeless who joined Occupy L.A., the decision of what to do with their tents—and in some cases, their many belongings—was one that had to be made on the fly, despite the announcement of the plans to evict the protesters having been made days earlier.
At about 10:30 pm on Tuedsay, Robert Henzler, who usually lives in a tent in Griffith Park, was packing up stacks of National Geographic magazines onto a trolley. Sean Gregory, who said he lives “on skid row, San Pedro, between fifth and sixth streets,” had just moved his tent—with everything in it—across Spring Street to the sidewalk opposite City Hall, and was helping others do the same.
“I had to sneak in to get my tent and my friends’ tents across the street,” he said. “They [the LAPD] won’t let us get through to get what we own.”
After the police raid on the park, Gregory was spotted a few blocks east on Spring Street, looking past a line of police officers in the direction of the spot where he left his tent.
Ashley Nickerson, an organizer with Good Jobs LA, was also there, trying to tell those who, like Gregory, had been living at Occupy L.A. and didn’t have anywhere to go home to, that they could spend the night at the La Placita church nearby. According to reports on Twitter, about 100 occupiers bedded down at the church on Wednesday morning.
Just before the raid, spirits among the occupiers and their supporters were high. In the streets around City Hall Park, which were closed to traffic, groups of people danced in the streets. A large group of protesters massed at the intersection of First Street and Broadway, where two lines of LAPD officers were keeping about 100 would-be protesters away from the park.
“They say go away / we say no way,” the protesters on the inside chanted, facing off with LAPD officers.
But according to reports on Twitter, by around 2:30 am on Wednesday morning, there were only a dozen or so protesters left in the park. Even the protesters who had taken refuge in the trees in front of City Hall were on their way out.
“Tree occupier has been plucked,” Dennis Romero of L.A. Weekly tweeted.