Police swept through the Washington offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, arresting eight people in a day-long raid that virtually shut down the tent colony a stone’s throw from the White House.
Some scuffles broke out, but stunned members of Occupy DC otherwise put up little resistance as National Park Service police descended on their sprawling, scruffy encampment in McPherson Square at dawn on Saturday.
By nightfall, police in riot gear and sanitation workers in white overalls, backed with forklifts and garbage trucks, had taken away dozens of tents, as well as soiled bedding, personal belongings and a few dead rats.
Police arrested seven people for disobeying orders to move or for crossing police lines, and an eighth was taken into custody for hitting and injuring a police officer with a brick, a Park Police spokesman told local media.
“It is a sad day in American history when the small act of occupying public space warrants the heavy-handed response of the federal government,” said Occupy DC in a statement to news media.
“Moving forward, the Occupy movement will not die,” said American University student Mana Aliabadi, 18, to fellow protesters who mustered as much morale as they could in the drizzle outside a police barricade.
But it was unclear where the leaderless campaign against economic inequality and corporate power that first erupted in New York’s financial district in September would go next.
Occupy DC took root in McPherson Square — in the heart of the K Street lobbying district — on October 1, growing in time to around 100 tents that included a library, a cafeteria, a medical clinic and a teepee.
But while the original Occupy Wall Street and other encampments fell in the face of evictions, protesters in Washington hung on, partly due to the National Park Service bending its no-camping rules and classifying the protest as “a 24-hour vigil.”
Under growing pressure from Republican politicians and local businesses, the federal agency changed tack last week, declaring it would begin strict enforcement at both Occupy DC and a second, less controversial camp nearby.
Dozens of police officers, some on horseback, and with a helicopter overhead, descended on McPherson Square at dawn Saturday. Surrounding streets were sealed off and barricades went up around the park.
“We are not here to evict,” but to verify compliance with the no-camping rules, one police officer told protesters. Those rules define camping as the use of park land for “sleeping activities.”
Protesters complied with a request to take down their “tent of dreams,” a huge blue tarpaulin they provocatively erected Monday over an equestrian statue of Civil War general James McPherson in the heart of the park.
But by mid-morning Saturday, as police slowly swept through the park, quadrant by quadrant, it was clear that any tent with anything inside would be confiscated — sending some occupiers scrambling to pack up their belongings.
Virmeko Scott, 30, was confident the clampdown would not be the end of Occupy DC.
“There’s going to be more tents down here,” he told AFP by his freshly emptied tent. “They’re going to multiply.”
Fellow occupier Melissa Byrne agreed: “We have been evicted, but word is going to get out and we’re going to be back stronger than ever.”
But passerby Jacqueline Meyers Edlow, a retiree, said the protesters had overstayed their welcome, and that citizens who sympathized with them at first now “want them to get the heck out.”
“I feel they should have been cleared out earlier, because of (the risk of) disease,” she said. “I know of no other country that would have let them stay this long.”