LOS ANGELES – Wall Street protesters in Los Angeles defied the mayor's early Monday deadline to vacate their encampment near City Hall, with about 1,000 demonstrators flooding into the area as the village of hundreds of tents remained standing as it has for nearly two months.
A celebratory atmosphere filled the night outside City Hall and the encampment near it: a group of protesters on bicycles circled the block, one of them in a cow suit, while organizers led chants with a bull horn.
"The best way to keep a non-violent movement non-violent is to throw a party, and keep it festive and atmospheric," said Brian Masterson.
Shortly after the 12:01 a.m. PST Monday deadline, there was only a small police presence, about two dozen motorcycle officers who remained across the street from the camp.
"Their plan is to resist the closure of this encampment and if that means getting arrested so be it," said Will Picard, one of the protesters. "I think they just want to make the police tear it down rather than tear it down themselves."
Chief Charlie Beck told reporters Friday that officers would definitely not be sweeping through the camp and arresting everyone the minute the clock ticks past midnight.
But in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that was published Sunday, Beck indicated he expects that arrests will become inevitable at some point.
"I have no illusions that everybody is going to leave," Beck said. "We anticipate that we will have to make arrests."
When it comes to that, he said, police officers "will not be the first ones to apply force."
Meanwhile, local clergy and labor leaders implored both sides to ensure that the 2-month-old demonstration remain peaceful.
"We are grateful to the Occupy movement for refocusing the country to the issue of income inequality," Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary and treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said in a statement issued Sunday.
"We call for nonviolence in all acts of civil disobedience by Occupy LA and in professional procedures by the LAPD. We are committed to a long-term movement from the 99 percent to hold Wall Street and the banks accountable for devastating our economy," Durazo added.
Villaraigosa has expressed admiration that, at least so far, the Occupy Los Angeles movement has remained peaceful, unlike those in some other cities around the country.
But while the mayor, a former labor organizer himself, has said he sympathizes with the movement, he added it's time to close the encampment of some 500 tents that dot the lawn in front of City Hall for the sake of public health and safety.
The 2-month-old movement is also at a crossroads, Villaraigosa said, and must "move from holding a particular patch of park to spreading the message of economic justice."
Although most protesters showed no signs of moving Monday, a few did seem to support the mayor's sentiments.
"I'm going," said Luke Hagerman, who sat looking sad and resigned in the tent he's lived in for a month. "I wish we could have got more done."