Occupy DC Forcefully Evicted, Protesters Injured, Arrested, Under Pressure from Congress's Richest Member
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“Move back!” shouted the cop wielding a clear Plexiglas shield emblazoned with the words “U.S. Park Police” as he moved into the crowd of demonstrators thronging McPherson Square on Saturday afternoon. The photographer next to me was shouting “I’m press!” but that didn’t seem to impress the phalanx of officers advancing on us, applying their shields to our shoulders.
“Move back!” the cop explained, and I went sprawling into what used to be the main information tent of Occupy DC. It was the place where you could always find someone who could tell you about the camp’s activities. It was a place where I had debated fiat money with a Ron Paul supporer, chatted with a delusional homeless man, and talked union politics with a woman from National Nurses United. Now the tent was a flat lumpy mess, and people were scrambling over it to get away from the suddenly aggressive cops. Nearby, mounted officers on horses were slowly wading their steeds into a river of people, and some screamed in panic at the approach of the massive animals.
What had started 12 hours earlier as a politically-tinged eviction of an unsanitary but entirely peaceful encampment had suddenly turned into an aggressive display of force by the National Park Police officers (including 24 officers bussed in from New York City.)
By late Saturday night, the occupiers of McPherson Square had been evicted. The 300 or so denizens of encampment–and several hundred supporters who rallied to their cause–were dispersed. Seven people were arrested in the course of the day. At least three people were injured. Your reporter lost his notebook but was otherwise unhurt.
The tent of dreams
The battle of McPherson Square began at dawn on Saturday. Park Police officers had received a call around two in the morning saying duty called. They assembled at the intersection of 15 th Street and K Streets at five in the morning and moved in to the OccupyDC camp within the hour. The first thing they told the protesters that they would have to take down their “Tent of Dreams,” a massive blue sheet they had draped over the statuesque shoulders of Civil War general James McPherson in the center of the park.
The occupation of the park had begun 129 days before when a small group, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, had started camping on the grass and holding daily General Assemblies. Over the next four months, the camp grew to more than 100 tents and became a hub for protests targeting the city’s political elite, ranging from Congress, to the Chamber of Commerce to the Democratic National Congressional Committee.
The tent of dreams was a violation of Park Service rules, the cops explained. If the protesters did not take it down, the police would. The protesters decided to take down their pride and joy. ”It was sad,” said John Zangas, one of the protesters. “We put up the Tent of Dreams for all those Americans who have lost their houses in the last couple of years. We wanted to make a symbol for them and the world to see that someone was standing up for them. “ In the early morning light, the fifty-foot square nylon dropcloth, emblazoned with twinkling stars and slogans (“Shalom”), was folded up and removed.
The Park Police were well-prepared for their mission. Under the command of two commanding officers named Dillon and Reid, 75 officers methodically and politely took control of the park over the course of the day. Citing National Park Service regulations against overnight camping, they asked protestors to leave, giving them time to take personal possessions. The cops set up black iron barricades, and set about inspecting the uninhabited tent city that had captured the capital’s imagination with its idealism and its squalor. Park Service employees in yellow hazmat suits looked through the tents, stuffing abandoned camping gear into trash bags and hauling away refuse.