U.S. Park Police and a D.C. police SWAT team clashed Sunday with Occupy D.C. protesters and took down a wooden-frame shelter the Occupiers had brought into McPherson Square and then refused to dismantle.
Sgt. David Schlosser, a Park Police spokesman, said the structure was to be taken down Sunday night. An inspector had viewed it earlier and deemed the shelter not safe.
Sgt. Schlosser said 31 people were arrested Sunday, most for disobeying police orders and crossing a police line. One protester, named David, also was slapped with public indecency and urination charges for allegedly relieving himself from atop the structure. He was the last protester to leave — to cheers from a crowd.
The showdown started before noon when police said organizers would need a permit and that they had an hour to take down the structure, which the protesters set up Saturday night.
Police then arrived on horseback, and the standoff extended into the evening with some protesters still on the roof of the structure as officers using a basket crane, or cherry picker, tried to remove them.
By midafternoon, members of the Metropolitan Police Department’s special weapons and tactics unit had arrived at the park, just blocks north of the White House, prompting speculation that officers would try to clear the entire encampment, as police did in Los Angeles, Oakland, Calif., and Philadelphia.
Local police closed off the streets surrounding the roughly one-square-block park, including 14th and 15th streets Northwest. They also set up metal barricade fences and closed the south end of the park, which kept many of the protesters from their tents, sleeping bags and other belongings.
Protesters also were seen carrying containers of milk, which is supposed to help soothe eyes hit with pepper spray.
Sgt. Schlosser later told reporters that “no pepper spray was used and no electric charges” such as tasers or stun guns were used in the operation.
Protester Siobhan McGuirk nevertheless called the arrests and police takeover “completely disproportionate.”
“This camp is peaceful. They are not saying why people are being arrested or what they will be charged with,” she said.
While Occupy protesters cheered for the men on the shelter’s roof, not everyone thought that defending the structure was a good idea. One protester, identified as J.D., said that “most of us here just want to air grievances, not antagonize police.”
“Putting up this structure was not very bright,” he said.
Occupy camps began popping up in public spaces across the country more than two months ago, starting in Lower Manhattan, N.Y., as a protest of what organizers saw as the unchecked greed and unfair practices by Wall Street banks.
Protesters in New York and elsewhere eventually expanded their message to say the county’s wealthiest 1 percent should do more for the remaining 99 percent of Americans. But the protest movement has been criticized as having no clear agenda.