LOS ANGELES » More than 1,400 police officers, some in riot gear, cleared the Occupy Los Angeles camp early Wednesday, driving protesters from a park around City Hall and arresting more than 200 who defied orders to leave. Similar raids in Philadelphia led to 50 arrests, but the scene in both cities was relatively peaceful.
Police in Los Angeles and Philadelphia moved in on Occupy Wall Street encampments under darkness in an effort to clear out some of the longest-lasting protest sites since crackdowns ended similar occupations across the country.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck praised the officers and the protesters for their restraint and the peaceful way the eviction was carried out.
Officers flooded down the steps of City Hall just after midnight and started dismantling the two-month-old camp two days after a deadline passed for campers to leave the park. Officers in helmets and wielding batons and guns with rubber bullets converged on the park from all directions with military precision and began making arrests after several orders were given to leave.
There were no injuries and no drugs or weapons were found during a search of the emptied camp, which was strewn with trash after the raid. City workers put up concrete barriers to wall off the park while it is restored. As of 5:10 a.m. PST, the park was clear of protesters, said LAPD officer Cleon Joseph.
The raid in Los Angeles came after demonstrators with the movement in Philadelphia marched through the streets after being evicted from their site. About 40 protesters were arrested after refusing to clear a street several blocks northeast of City Hall, said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. They were lined up in cuffs and loaded on to buses by officers. Six others were arrested earlier after remaining on a street police that police tried to clear.
"The police officers who were involved in this operation were hand-picked for this assignment," Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said. "They’re highly trained and disciplined and showed a tremendous amount of restraint and professionalism in carrying out this morning’s operation."
Ramsey said he would have preferred to evict the protesters without making arrests, but some refused orders to clear the street and had to be taken into custody. He said three officers sustained minor injuries. Protesters reported some injuries, but none appeared serious.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa raised public safety and health concerns in announcing plans for the eviction last week, while Philadelphia officials said protesters must clear their site to make room for a $50 million renovation project.
Defiant Los Angeles campers who were chanting slogans as the officers surrounded the park, booed when an unlawful assembly was declared, paving the way for officers to begin arresting those who didn’t leave.
In the first moments of the raid, officers tore down a tent and tackled a tattooed man with a camera on City Hall steps and wrestled him to the ground. Someone yelled "police brutality."
Teams of four or five officers moved through the crowd making arrests one at a time, cuffing the hands of protesters with white plastic zip-ties. A circle of protesters sat with arms locked, many looking calm and smiling.
Opamago Cascini, 29, said the night had been a blast and he was willing to get arrested.
"It’s easy to talk the talk, but you gotta walk the walk," Cascini said.
Police used a cherry picker to pluck five men from trees. Two others were in a tree house — one wore a crown and another taunted police with an American flag.
In Philadelphia, police began pulling down tents at about 1:20 a.m. EST after giving demonstrators three warnings that they would have to leave, which nearly all of the protesters followed. Dozens of demonstrators then began marching through the streets and continued through the night.
Ramsey said breaking up the camp in the early-morning hours helped minimize any disruption to businesses and traffic.
"We acknowledge the fact that we are going to have to leave this space …. but in another sense this has been our home for almost two months and no one wants to see their home taken away from them," Philadelphia protester Bri Barton, 22, said before police began clearing out the camp.
"Whether or not we have this space or work in the city is nowhere near done," she said.
The eviction overall appeared to have been carried out without any significant scuffles or violence.
Later Wednesday morning, workers used front-end loaders to scoop up tents, trash and other debris and dump it into trucks to be hauled away, while others swept the plaza clean.
Demonstrators and city officials in both Los Angeles and Philadelphia were hoping any confrontation would be nonviolent, unlike evictions at similar camps around the country that sometimes involved pepper spray and tear gas. The movement against economic disparity and perceived corporate greed began with Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan two months ago.
The Los Angeles officers staged for hours outside Dodger Stadium before the raid. They were warned that demonstrators might throw everything from concrete and gravel to human feces at them.
"Please put your face masks down and watch each other’s back," a supervisor told them. "Now go to work."
The officers came from a wide range of specialized units within the force, including the bomb squad, and the arson unit. Scores of officers in hazmat suits also were sent in to deal with potentially unsanitary conditions in the park.
Before police arrived in large numbers, protesters were upbeat and the mood was almost festive. A protester in a Santa Claus hat danced in the street. A woman showed off the reindeer antlers she had mounted on her gas mask.
Matheson reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press writer Shaya Tayefe Mohajer in Los Angeles also contributed to this report.