Park Police Clear Occupy DC Camp; McPherson Square Tents Searched, Removed (UPDATED)
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Park Police officers, some on horseback and others in riot gear, surrounded the Occupy DC camp in McPherson Square with barricades before sunrise Saturday in an enforcement action that led to the search and removal of tents and protester belongings.
By early evening with light rain falling, police had cleared the entirety of McPherson Square of protesters, who gathered in the middle of K Street NW for their daily Occupy DC general assembly.
Though police stressed earlier on Saturday that their action did not an eviction, protesters disputed that contention. "We're being evicted without tear gas!," said Occupy DC activist Melissa Byrne, according to The Washington Post, which observed early Saturday afternoon that "[t]hey are really clearing this place out."
There have been at least eight arrests, according to media reports and protester dispatches from the scene. According to WRC-TV/NBC4, a Park Police officer was hit in the face with a brick. WTOP reports that the person suspected of throwing the brick is in police custody and will be charged with felony assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon.
By 10 a.m., Park Police officers, along with personnel in bright yellow HAZMAT suits, were inspecting tents to see if they were in compliance with the National Park Service's no-camping regulations. Tents that were deemed out of compliance were dismantled and removed from the park, along with Occupy DC activists' belongings.
The encampment, which started as handful of protesters on Oct. 1 and grew to include tents and communal areas covering the majority of the federally-controlled downtown park near the White House, was cordoned off into sections as police officers conducted inspections.
According to livestreaming video from McPherson Square, one Occupy DC activist pleaded with police that "everything" he owned was in his tent.
The National Park Service, which has jurisdiction over the park, has been under pressure by congressional Republicans over how it has handled the Occupy encampment. Members of the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee have criticized the NPS for tolerating camping in the park.
NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis said that the Occupy camps in the nation's capital are protected under the First Amendment, but said his agency would soon enforce no-camping regulations. Warnings on impending enforcement were distributed on Jan. 27 at both the Occupy DC camp at McPherson Square and a separate camp at Freedom Plaza, which started Oct. 6
According to dispatches from reporters in McPherson Square on Saturday morning, police conducted tent inspections three at a time with a legal observer present.
But by mid-morning, activists, according to livestreaming video from inside the park, were complaining that the Park Police had gone against their word and removed tents that Occupy DC protesters believed adhered to the no-camping rules.
Jeffrey Light, a lawyer representing some of the Occupy DC protesters, told the Associated Press that the U.S. Park Police's actions ran counter to a pledge from a government attorney who had said there were no plans to remove tents that were in compliance with the NPS regulations.
"Here they are," Light said, "doing something different than what they said in court."
Occupy DC's "Tent of Dreams," erected by protesters on Monday around the park's statue to Gen. James McPherson, was taken down by Occupy activists before sunrise. Police removed the Guy Fawkes mask on the statue's face.
Around 7:40 a.m., Park Police officers reiterated the National Park Service's regulations about camping in the park and protest activities: their tents can stay but cannot have camping equipment inside, including bedding.
While tensions were initially high early Saturday morning, observers noted that the raid wasn't very confrontational.
Later, however, the scene became more tense as more police officers moved into the square.
According to livestreaming video from the park, around 8:25 a.m., four activists who remained at the base of the McPherson statue were given their third warning to disperse. They were then arrested.
After the protesters were removed from the base of the statue, special National Park Service crews went in to clean the McPherson statue.
By 9:30 a.m., the area surrounding the statue had been cleared of remaining tents and other Occupy activists' belongings.
As the U.S. Park Police enforcement effort unfolded and tents were removed, The Washington Post reported that "[l]ots of dead mice and rats" were discovered beneath wooden pallets.
By the end of Saturday morning, the reality was sinking in for some Occupy activists that the community they had built since last fall was coming apart piece by piece.
As tent removal continued into Saturday afternoon, more police and protesters gathered on the scene. A group of protesters huddled in front of Occupy DC's library to protect it.
By 3 p.m., the southern half of McPherson Square had been mostly cleared out, with bulldozers clearing off the top layer of soil, which were removed by dump trucks.
But the northern part of the square remained in control of protesters into the late afternoon. By early evening, police had kicked out the remaining protesters from the square and out into K Street.
Following Saturday evening's general assembly gathering, Occupy DC protesters pledged to return on Sunday.
This is a developing story ...
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