Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ousted protesters pledge to reclaim Occupy SF camp

Ousted protesters pledge to reclaim Occupy SF camp

Crews from the Department of Public Works clean up Justin Herman Plaza after police cleared out the Occupy encampment in an early morning raid in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011.

The Question

The Occupy SF raid:
Needed to clean up area
Should have let protesters stay
They'll be back
(12-07) 14:10 PST SAN FRANCISCO -- About 75 protesters who once occupied Justin Herman Plaza pledged to retake the plaza and march through San Francisco this afternoon in what they called an effort to disrupt the Financial District.
Police raided the Occupy SF camp early today, arresting 70 campers and protesters at the plaza and clearing out the 2-month-old encampment.
The Occupy protesters regrouped this afternoon and said they didn't intend to let the city prevail. They said they would disrupt traffic downtown before regrouping at 5 p.m. and trying to retake the plaza.
More than 100 police officers, along with sheriff's deputies, firefighters and public works crews, converged on the camp at the foot of Market Street at about 1:30 a.m. and gave protesters five minutes to clear out.
Most did, but 30 Occupiers did not, and another 40 were arrested when they blocked Market Street in protest, said Officer Albie Esparza, a San Francisco police spokesman.
The 70 were arrested on suspicion of illegal lodging and camping in a public park, Esparza said.
Two were also arrested on suspicion of felony assault on a police officer after they threw a metal chair at him, hitting him in his face shield and causing minor injuries that did not require hospitalization, Esparza said.
Kristopher Sullivan, 31, a camper, said most of the Occupiers hadn't had time to retrieve their belongings, and police and protesters clashed for a bit.
Mayor Ed Lee said the city had given the protesters repeated warnings to move somewhere else. He said the protests have cost the city $950,000.
"Everyone in the city has the right to protest," Lee said. "But overnight sleeping will not be allowed."
Lee stressed that it was his decision to send in police and remove the encampment.
"It's always been my decision to make," the mayor said. "I've been incredibly patient with the use and misuse of Justin Herman Plaza."
That patience is apparently gone. Although protests will be allowed at the plaza, the tents won't rise again, Lee said.
A separate offer to move the encampment to a vacant lot owned by the school district near 16th and Mission streets is also off the table, Lee said.
"As far as I know, the school district has pulled the permit (to allow the encampment), so we don't have that option," the mayor said.
The city shut down the camp after police and other officials stopped being able to communicate with the protesters, authorities said. The crew of campers that had once been negotiating with the city was no longer there, said Police Chief Greg Suhr.
"We weren't getting our e-mails returned," Suhr said.
The chief added, "Most of the people in this neighborhood are part of the 99 percent, and they needed some relief. So this part of the 99 percent removed that part of the 99 percent to give the other part of the 99 percent some relief."
Public works crews worked in the frigid air before dawn this morning, power-washing the park while officers with riot helmets looked on. About two dozen protesters stood on the plaza, watching. Garbage trucks hauled off debris that was strewn about the camp.
Tents and belongings were confiscated by the Department of Public Works and can be retrieved until 5 p.m. today at agency's yard at 2323 Cesar Chavez St., officials said.
Matt Schmidt, an equity analyst who has walked by the camp twice a day for the last two months on his way to and from work, said he understood the protesters' frustrations with income inequality and bank bailouts.
But the city had let the situation deteriorate, he said.
"They probably should have done this months ago," Schmidt said. "Frankly, I think the (Occupiers) haven't really found a coherent vision that's cohesive."
The police raid followed an incident Thursday in which officers tried to erect barricades around the camp, calling it a safety measure. Police retreated when camp residents loudly objected, and officers removed most of the barricades.
Police officials said at the time that the reaction was an indication of the camp's volatility.
Supervisor David Campos, a vocal supporter of the Occupy protesters, said he hopes the city can work out some accommodation with the group.
"Obviously it is a concern that the city felt the need to go in there, but I don't want to jump to any conclusions," Campos said. "What I hear is that Occupy is not going away and will have a presence."

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