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DC Police Raid Occupy Encampment in Washington

Common Dreams staff

Police arrived before dawn this morning in McPherson Square in Washington, DC.

UPDATE: (2:35 PM) AP reports:

Police by mid-day had arrested six people, including four protesters who refused to move from beneath a statute and two others for crossing a police line.

The National Park Service, which has tolerated the protesters for months and protected their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly, has said it will give protesters notice if police decide to clear the park. Police on Saturday were careful to say they were not evicting the protesters or closing the park, but were instead stepping up enforcement of an existing ban on camping.

Regulations allow protesters to remain onsite at all hours with tents, though they are not allowed to camp out on blankets or other bedding materials. Police said tents that broke the rules would be seized and their owners threatened with arrest.

The park service had said it would start enforcing the ban last Monday, and though protesters had then braced for a confrontation, it wasn't until Saturday that police cracked down.

Some protesters said Saturday's enforcement amounted to eviction even if the police wouldn't admit it.

"This is a slow, media-friendly eviction," said protester Melissa Byrne. "We're on federal property, so they have to make it look good."


The live stream from Occupy DC:

Just before dawn on Saturday morning police, including some dressed in riot gear and accompanied by officers on horseback and others in protective suits, descended in McPherson Square where Occupy protesters have been camped since last year.

The Washington Post reports this morning:

U.S. Park Police Capt. Phil Beck told protesters they would be clearing the area around the historic statue, where protesters had erected a blue tarp dubbed the “Tent of Dreams,” and checking to see if there was unauthorized bedding in tents.

Under the rules, protesters are allowed to conduct a 24 -hour vigil in the federal park but not camp out overnight.

Shortly before 6 a.m., a large contingent of mounted police and others with riot shields arrived at the camp, erecting barricades as protesters shouted “wake up” and chanted.

“We are not evicting people from the park,” Beck said. “We are asking folks to come into compliance.”

After a lengthy negotiation, protesters agreed to remove the “Tent of Dreams” that they had draped on the statue of Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson on Monday. Protesters chanted “Solidarity forever” as the tarp came down and some suggested it be preserved in the Smithsonian as part of the history of the Occupy movement.

Protective eyegear was distributed and emergency medical personnel were stationed nearby, but by sunrise no pepper spray had been used by police.

Protesters said they had expected the raid, but some were surprised at the magnitude of the response, which included dozens of officers, fire hoses and a paddy wagon.

“It’s pretty excessive if all they wanted us to do was take down the tarp,” said Ricky Lehner, a protester.

And Reuters adds:

Protesters are targeting the growing income gap, corporate greed and what they see as unfair tax structure favoring the richest 1 percent of Americans.

News footage from the site showed police speaking with the "Occupy DC" protesters in the park and removing a large tarp decorated with stars and moons over a statue of U.S. Civil War General James McPherson at the center of the square.

While similar "Occupy" protests against social and economic inequality in other U.S. cities have been shut down by police, the demonstrations in the capital have survived an unusually warm winter and a permissive approach by federal authorities reluctant to provoke confrontation.

And The Hill reports:

The NPS will allow protesters to remain in the square but is removing all “camping equipment” and will ensure that temporary structures are open at least on one side.

The park service has come under pressure from Republicans in Congress to end the camping in the two federal parks.

House Oversight Committee Republicans, led by Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) have questioned why the NPS allowed protesters to degrade McPherson Square which had just been renovated using money from President Obama's stimulus package.

The Occupy DC movement says it is non-partisan, but its rallying cry pitting the 99 percent against the richest 1 percent has underscored Obama's message that the wealthy are not paying their fair share in taxes and helping to reduce the deficit.


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