OAKLAND, Calif. — Police in riot gear cleared anti-Wall Street protesters on Tuesday from a California government plaza where they had been camping for two weeks, arresting 75 people and leaving a sea of overturned tents, signs and trash.
Hundreds of officers entered the camp before dawn with tear gas and beanbag rounds, police said. The arrests were on suspicion of misdemeanour unlawful assembly and illegal camping.
“It was definitely chaos. People didn’t want to get gassed,” said protester Anthony Owens. Police said none of the roughly 170 protesters there were injured, but some protesters complained of rough handling. Television news footage showed protesters being taken away in plastic handcuffs.
The Occupy protests over economic inequality have spread from a single camp in New York City to cities across the United States and beyond since mid-September, overlapping with similar, earlier protests in Europe. An attempt earlier this month to clean the New York site, which protesters there feared was a tactic to shut them down, ended with authorities backing off.
In Tuesday’s sweep, officers fired tear gas and bean bags when one group of protesters pelted them with rocks and bottles near the camp’s kitchen area, Jordan said.
Tensions between the city and protesters rose last week as officials complained about what they described as deteriorating safety and sanitation. The city ordered the protesters to vacate, though they did not set a deadline
Some people in the camp left as word spread about possible police action, Owens said. Many of the remaining protesters locked arms and shouted as officers surrounded the plaza and moved in Tuesday morning.
City officials had originally been supportive of protesters, with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan saying that sometimes “democracy is messy.”
But the city later warned the protesters that they were breaking the law and couldn’t stay in the encampment overnight. They cited concerns about rats, fire hazards, public urination and acts of violence at the site, which had grown to more than 150 tents and included areas for health care, child care and cooking.
“Many Oaklanders support the goals of the national Occupy Wall Street movement,” Quan said in a statement on Tuesday. “However, over the last week it was apparent that neither the demonstrators nor the City could maintain safe or sanitary conditions or control the ongoing vandalism.”
There were reports of a sex assault and a severe beating and fire and paramedics were denied access to the camp, according to city officials, who said they had also received numerous complaints of intimidating and threatening behaviour.
Protesters disputed the city’s claims. They said the protest was dominated by a spirit of co-operation that helped keep the site clean and allowed disputes to be resolved peacefully.
Lauren Richardson, a 24-year-old college student, said the disheveled state of the camp following the police raid gave a false impression. She said volunteers collected garbage and recycling every six hours, that water was boiled before being used to wash dishes and that rats had infested the park long before the camp went up.
“It was very neat. It was very organized,” Richardson said.
Volunteers at the medical tent erected on the site said paramedics had not been kept away.
The city said protesters would be allowed to return to the plaza after it was cleaned up and could stay between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. but not overnight.
Many protesters said the raid had only served to strengthen their resolve that the Oakland protests would continue.