Thousands defy ban on Occupy LA

AFP Photo / Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez
The mayor’s imposed midnight deadline came and went at the Occupy Los Angeles encampment this morning with little incident, as thousands of protesters remained in downtown LA hours later with only few arrests reported.

Two months after demonstrators in Los Angeles began their encampment in front of LA’s City Hall, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa demanded that protesters dismantle their tents and vacate the grounds by 12 a.m. Monday. By early morning, however, around 2,000 protesters had moved to an adjacent intersection, refusing to disperse unless their previous camp could be reestablished. An occupation of the intersection began by 2:30 a.m., and police ordered them to leave the road around two hours later.

A police voice booming from a loudspeaker attached to a LAPD truck instructed protesters at around 1:30 a.m. that “we are so glad [the protest] is peaceful, and we really need you to cooperate by getting off the streets.”

“What I don’t want to do is start arresting folks tonight,” Police Commander Bob Green said, reports the New York Times. “I don’t intend to enforce the eviction order tonight, but if I am forced to I will. We simply need to clear the streets.”

Four protesters in all were arrested during the standoff on the streets, with police citing charges of unlawful assembly after asking demonstrators to disperse from the road. Shortly after, however, the LAPD withdrew from the encampment and its surrounding area after clearing the streets for morning traffic. Before long, the Occupy LA demonstration was operating once again in full force.

“As we’ve said before, this isn’t sustainable long term, but for now our focus was just getting people off the street, which we did peacefully,” LAPD spokesperson Andrew Smith tells the New York Times.

“It wasn’t in their best interest to come in when there are thousands here,” adds protester P. J. Davenport of the police. “They knew that, and we knew that. They’ve done an exceedingly good job with this all along.”

Mayor Villaraigosa had said earlier that protesters would be removed forcefully from their encampment had they failed to vacate by midnight, but so far an actual intervention from law enforcement has failed to materialize, sans Monday morning’s brief standoff on the streets.

"While Occupy LA has brought needed attention to the economic disparities in our country, an encampment on City Hall grounds is simply not sustainable indefinitely," Mayor Villaraigosa said in a statement Sunday evening. "It is time for Occupy LA to move from focusing their efforts to hold a particular patch of park land to spreading the message of economic justice and restoration of balance to American society.” By late Sunday evening, around half of the tents at the Occupy LA camp were dismantled, but following the coming and going of the midnight deadline, many returned to City Hall to continue their occupation.

"I'm pretty much speechless," Clark Davis of Occupy LA’s media center told the Associated Press.

"We were fearful," added protester Julie Levine, “but we held our numbers and police were on their best behavior."

Despite Mayor Villaraigosa’s orders, Police Chief Charlie Beck told reporters on Monday morning that “There is no concrete deadline,” and added that city officials were not planning on fully dismantling the encampment until it was safe as to make sure there was “as little drama as possible.”

Earlier in the week, Mayor Villaraigosa had offered protesters office space and farmland in hopes that they would continue their occupation elsewhere, but a vote of the Occupy Los Angeles General Assembly on November 23 yielded a decision to stay put in front of City Hall.

Earlier on Sunday, thousands more gathered to show solidarity. Los Angeles-based punk band NOFX played earlier in the afternoon during an impromptu performance for fans and it is estimated that the number of occupiers into the overnight hours surpassed 2,000.

An US District Court is scheduled to go over a petition for an injunction today that will legally prevent the dismantling of the Occupy LA encampment in the near future.

Across the country, protesters at Occupy Philadelphia in Pennsylvania expected a 5 p.m. Sunday deadline to be the end of their demonstration, but by Monday morning their encampment remains and the police have yet to intervene.