Police in riot gear and cleanup crews in hazardous materials suits began enforcing no-camping laws in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza over the weekend, resulting in intense — and often physical — confrontations with Occupy D.C. protesters who resisted their efforts.
At least 12 people were arrested during the weekend enforcement actions, and the majority of tents that made up the McPherson Square camp were removed along with truckloads of trash. One police officer was injured Saturday when he was struck in the face with a brick.
Police on Sunday engaged in a compliance check to ensure protesters at the Freedom Plaza camp were obeying health and safety regulations, but the action was not as confrontational as the clash at McPherson Square on Saturday.
The enforcement began about 6 a.m. Saturday, with police closing streets around McPherson Square as they conducted a tent-by-tent search for camping equipment and people sleeping. Officers took down a tarp, dubbed the “tent of dreams” by protesters, that had been placed over the statue of Civil War Gen. James McPherson in the center of the square.
Muddy sleeping bags, wooden pallets and even three dog shelters were removed and hauled away in bags loaded on the back of a flatbed truck.
Police said Sunday they had found human feces, urine in plastic bottles, used condoms and rats — alive and dead. Some of the equipment was tagged and bagged and for protesters to claim beginning Monday morning at U.S. Park Police headquarters.
In a scene that was repeated several times Saturday, police at McPherson Square shoved confrontational protesters out of areas of the park they planned to clear, while demonstrators chanted and hurled obscenities at officers.
Later in the afternoon, as police approached the protesters’ “library” tent, tensions mounted and shoving matches broke out as officers on foot and on horses attempted to force demonstrators out of the park and onto adjacent sidewalks and streets. Children could be seen among the demonstrators being forced out of the park. Police used a stun gun to subdue one demonstrator.
Occupy protester Thi Lee was caught in the push. She said she was jabbed a few times as police came through the area.
“They just started coming in and shoving people around,” she said. “I just got caught up on it. I was like, ‘I can´t believe they’re doing this.’ “
Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser said the enforcement was a way for police to address “nuisance abatement” and “not an eviction.”
To the occupiers, there was a different message.
“This is just another American foreclosure,” protester Brian Eister said.
The National Park Service served notice earlier in the week that authorities would begin enforcing no-camping statutes at McPherson Square and a few blocks away at another occupy camp in Freedom Plaza, sites where protesters have camped since early October.
Protesters, for the most part, did not interfere early on during Saturday´s raid, as officers and maintenance workers combed through abandoned tents. Protesters argued that even the tents that appeared to be empty were necessary to protect visitors from the elements.
Protester Robert Dilley said the police action at McPherson Square was mostly peaceful but complained that police “lied to us.”
“They are destroying Occupy D.C.,” he said.