By Annie Gowen
Four protesters were arrested and some tents and debris were cleared during a pre-dawn raid on the Occupy D.C. encampment in McPherson Square Saturday.
U.S. Park Police on horseback and on foot with riot gear swept into the park around 6 a.m. Several blocks downtown were closed for the raid, characterized as “further enforcement” of a no-camping crackdown that began Monday.
Despite the show of force, the relations between police and protesters remained largely peaceful. As police swept into the camp before sunrise, protesters didn’t resist but shouted “Wake up!” and chanted.
But four people were arrested when they refused to leave an area in the center of the park where workers were trying to clear tents, bedding and debris.
David Schlosser, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police, said in a statement that parts of the park were being closed for “nuisance abatement.”
“This is not an eviction,” Schlosser said.
The protesters — who had been expecting a raid — felt otherwise.
“We’re being evicted without tear gas,” said Melissa Byrne, a protester from the District. “It’s just not as glamorous” as high-profile closures at Occupy Wall Street and other camps, she said.
Under the rules, protesters are allowed to conduct a 24 -hour vigil in the federal park but not camp out overnight.
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.
After the arrests, a dozen Park Police officers with riot helmets and clipboards began surveying tents to check for bedding and belongings inside. Workers in yellow hazmat suits began stuffing blankets and sleeping bags into trash bags
Protesters grew upset when it appeared Park Police were tearing out tents without bedding, which they considered “vigil tents” that are permitted by the National Park Service
“Why are you taking down a tent with nothing inside of it?” Protester Sara Shaw hollered from atop a park bench, behind the police barricades.
Capt. Phil Beck stopped to try and calm the angry protesters.
“If it’s not in compliance we have to do what is necessary,” he said.
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.
The U.S. Park Service announced a week ago that it would begin enforcing the longtime regulations that prohibit camping in federal parks. Protesters at both McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza were told they’d be arrested if they didn’t remove all sleeping gear and other equipment.
Campers were told they couldn’t sleep at the park, prompting some to go on “sleep strikes.” But while some campers complied with the rules and left the McPherson encampment over the past week, others remained.
Traffic was light early Saturday morning, but much of the vehicle access around McPherson Square was blocked. Pedestrian traffic was being permitted on the east and north sides of the park.
Via Washington Post