WASHINGTON – District of Columbia police on Saturday evening arrested 11 protesters and planned to charge them with unlawful entry after officers entered and cleared an abandoned city-owned building that had been occupied by a group inspired by Occupy D.C.
Supporters of the protesters cheered as officers led demonstrators from the downtown Washington building in handcuffs and into two police vans.
The group Free Franklin began occupying the four-story Franklin School on Saturday, protesting the lack of housing for homeless people. The historic building served as a homeless shelter until 2008.
Participants with handkerchiefs over their faces lowered a banner from the roof that said "Public Property under Community Control." More than 60 supporters gathered in a park near the red-brick building and cheered the protesters. The building is two blocks from Occupy D.C.'s encampment.
Group spokeswoman Abigail DeRoberts said earlier Saturday that protesters plan to remain in the building indefinitely.
Police watched as protesters hung the banner and later called firefighters and more officers to the scene.
Protesters said police and firefighters then entered the building with crow bars and other instruments. Supporters blocked alleys around the building and chanted, "We are the 99 percent."
Demonstrators blocked alleys next to the building even after police officers went inside. By early evening, the banner had come down.
A spokesperson for Mayor Vincent Gray told ABC7 in Washington that the protesters in the building at 13th and K Street, NW "will be removed and arrested."
Louis Cannon, chief of the D.C. Protective Services Police, told The Associated Press that 11 protesters were arrested inside the building, including eight men and three women. Each will be charged with unlawful entry and could face up to a year in jail and a fine if convicted of the misdemeanor charge. He said none put up any resistance when they were arrested.
"We did a sweep of the building and they were all on the roof," said Cannon, whose agency protects D.C. government-owned, -leased and -managed facilities and property.
The chief said the building is now boarded-up and welded shut, and police are investigating how the protesters gained entry.
He said the building has been vacant since 2008. Cannon said his agency was called to the scene at about 3 p.m. and had cleared the building by 7 p.m., with help from dozens of officers from the Metropolitan Police and U.S. Park Police
Following the arrests, more than 50 protesters remained in the middle of 13th Street, NW, which was blocked off by dozens of police cars. Some chanted, "Our children's future is not for sale." More officers arrived at the scene, but the crowd began to break up after the building had been cleared and the arrested protesters taken away.
Protester Ray Valentine of Washington said she felt that the protest had been effective in reopening the conversation about the former homeless shelter because she said the city wants to privatize a public building.
"D.C. is a city that's getting more and more expensive to live in, and the programs that help people keep living here are continuing to be cut," she said.
According to the National Park Service's website, the Franklin School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Designed by Adolph Cluss, the school was completed in 1868 and won prizes for its modern schoolhouse design. It was also the scene of Alexander Graham Bell's first wireless message in June 1880.