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Occupy DC Forcefully Evicted, Protesters Injured, Arrested, Under Pressure from Congress's Richest Member

What had started as a politically-tinged eviction of an entirely peaceful encampment had suddenly turned into an aggressive display of force by the National Park Police officers.

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The process wasn’t always peaceful. To secure the northeast corner of the square, a file of 40 officers bulled their way down one of the sidewalks of the square while the demonstrators chanted “This is a public space.” One of the occupiers, a young Iraq war veteran Michael Patterson, cursed the police but gave way to the overwhelming display of force by the impassive officers. Another protester, a musician named Jonny, called out “mic check” and read the text of the First Amendment. The crowd read along, declaring “Congress shall make no law ….  abridging… the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”

The dismay of the demonstrators was palpable.  “I think the tactic of camping out has lost its usefulness,” an occupier named Travis told me. “But I’m here in solidarity because there are a lot of people who have no place to go. How can they evict homeless people from the only home they have?”

By three o’clock, the cops it seemed the protesters and police had reached a degree of mutual understanding. As the police dismantled the tents, the demonstrators stood back and contented themselves with mic checks about why they joined the movement. (“I occupy because my friends can’t afford to go to college,” said Ben, a freshman at American University.) While a few young men taunted the police as “fascists” and “faggots,” equally outspoken women in the crowd rebuked them for their language and urged them to show respect.  The cops, carrying guns and gun tear gas, spoke mostly among themselves.

“I look at these cops, most of them are 26 or 27 years old, and I know who they are answering to,” said Andrew Benthall, a bartender and Occupy sympathizer who also stood on the frontlines of the confrontation. “They’re just like me. They answer to their wives and their bosses. They’re not bad people. ”

The raid came five days after the Park Service,  under pressure from Darrell Issa, a senior Republican Congressman, posted an announcement that a previously ignored ban on overnight camping in the park would be enforced. For many demonstrators, Issa, a conservative Republican and the wealthiest man in Congress, embodies the 1% elite whose privileges, they say, come at the expense of the general public.

“They’re not listening to the people”

The trouble started around five o’clock when the cops turned their attention to the last uncleared quadrant of the park, home to camp’s library, a big blue tent where you could borrow a book by Vaclav Havel or a biography of Che Guevara. As darkness and a light rain began to fall, the officers negotiated with the camp’s library committee. When the occupiers declined to leave, the cops seemed to lose patience and professionalism for the first time all day. Two lines of police officers advanced much more aggressively than they had before catching the protesters in a pincher action.

Chaos ensued with the advancing officers shouting, “You have to leave, this area is closed” while shoving people backwards. Dozens of people  were knocked down.  The arrival of the mounted police sent people running for safety. As the demonstrators backed up onto the empty expanse of blocked-off K Street, they took pictures with their smart phones and chanted “shame, shame, shame” at the police. After about ten minutes, everybody, except for the cops and the cleanup crews, had been forced out of McPherson Square.

As the officers set up barricades on the park’s perimeter, the frustration of the demonstrators exploded. “You are animals,” one woman shouted at the line of blue-helmeted officers. “You almost trampled a little girl. Do you have kids?” Another man said, “Go back to Syria. They need you there.” One man who had been taunting the cops all day with vulgar sexual insults was knocked down, manhandled, and hauled away bound and tied.

 
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