OAKLAND -- Before dawn Tuesday, at least 200 police, many in riot gear, tore down the Occupy Oakland encampment in front of City Hall and arrested dozens of people. A smaller camp near Lake Merritt was also dismantled.
Early reports from police say the raids went smoothly, with all protesters cleared out of the downtown Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in less than 30 minutes.
After police surrounded the plaza about 4:45 a.m., they began moving in and taking down tents and barricades erected by the group, which had been camped there since Oct. 10 in support of the Occupy Wall Street effort.
Many protesters were handcuffed and led away by police from the camp at 14th Street and Broadway. Many others left on their
Police in riot gear, armed with billy clubs and some with shotguns, overturned tents, and the campers' wooden stalls quickly, leaving what looked like a hurricane-struck refugee camp in their wake. They ripped up dozens of cardboard signs, overturned a couch and when it was over there were scraps of carpet, personal belongings and trash all over the plaza.
One police officer said several objects were thrown at police, including bottles, skillets, other kitchen utensils and rocks. They also "threw plates at us like Frisbees," the officer said.
Protesters also chanted "Police go home, cops go home" and banged sticks on anything they could find. Some chanted "Police were the biggest gang in America."
At the Snow Park camp, Mindy Stone said as she was led away by police that she was just there to protest and exercise her rights. "We are not camping, we are just demonstrating."
No injuries were immediately reported. Police did not have an exact count of how many people were arrested.
The Occupy Oakland encampment, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, sprung up on Oct. 10 and over the last two weeks had grown into a "tent city" with an estimated 300 campers, hay bales and stalls for medical aid, food, art, and community meetings. Along with the makeshift city came a host of problems. City officials reported rats in the camp, fights, drug use and violence against the media.
Shortly before 3 a.m. Tuesday, Occupy Oakland organizers sent out a text message alert, saying a police raid was imminent, but police didn't surround camp until almost two hours later. Police used a bullhorn to repeat instructions to leave the plaza immediately or risk arrest. Police threatened to use "chemical agents" to oust the protesters.
Protesters attempted to keep police out by putting at least two metal Dumpsters at the side of the camp near 14th Street and Broadway, but police pushed them aside during the raid.
One man walked around carrying a giant shield he fashioned out of duct tape. After the plaza was cleared of protesters, about 20 to 30 people gathered on a small side street off Broadway between 14th and 15th streets beating drums and chanting "rise up, rise up, rise up, come on people rise up" as police mulled around the plaza and in small groups on the streets. Three helicopters circled above the scene as the night began to turn to day. The city has advised employers to keep employees away from downtown while cleanup crews move in to remove the massive amount of debris.
When the loose-knit group first occupied the plaza, it was to protest widespread unemployment and corporate greed, but the encampment grew to encompass many other causes: support for state prison inmates who are on hunger strikes, housing rights, fair wages and against social oppression.
City officials began stepping up pressure on the protesters last week and on Friday upped the stakes by issuing a letter stating that the encampment on the plaza was "a violation of the law" and threatening violators with immediate arrest.
The "notice of violations and demand to cease violations" came a day after a preliminary letter that urged the residents to vacate the camp because of what the city said were a host of problems, including fighting, vandalism, public urination and other sanitation and public health issues. Officials said an existing rat problem in the area was being made worse by the encampment, which had about 100 tents at one point.
A spokeswoman for the mayor, Karen Boyd, said Friday that the protesters had shown themselves incapable of self-governance. "As a collective, they cannot maintain the plaza in a safe condition," she said.
Reporters Scott Johnson and Sean Mahercontributed to this story.