Published November 28, 2011
LOS ANGELES – Wall Street protesters declared a minor victory Monday when they defied a midnight deadline to leave their tent city encampment around City Hall and police withdrew after surrounding the camp for six hours without moving in.
Four people were arrested as police cleared downtown streets to make way for morning rush hour traffic, but police said the event was largely peaceful.
Police Chief Charlie Beck said it remains unclear when the nearly two-month-old Occupy LA camp would be cleared. About half of the 485 tents had been taken down as of Sunday night, leaving patches of the 1.7-acre (0.7-hectare) park around City Hall barren of grass and strewn with garbage.
"There is no concrete deadline," Beck told reporters Monday morning after hundreds of officers withdrew without moving in on the camp. The chief said he wanted to make sure the removal will be done when it was safe for protesters and officers and "with as little drama as possible."
Protesters chanted "we won, we won" as riot-clad officers left the scene.
"I'm pretty much speechless," said Clark Davis, media coordinator for Occupy LA.
Police turned back after hundreds of Occupy LA supporters showed up at the camp Sunday night as the midnight deadline for evacuation neared.
As the night drew on, many demonstrators left.
Protester Julie Levine said she was surprised that police did not move in as the numbers dwindled. "We were fearful," she said. "But we held our numbers and police were on their best behavior."
A celebratory atmosphere filled the night with protesters milling about the park and streets by City Hall in seeming good spirits. A group on bicycles circled the block, one of them in a cow suit. Organizers led chants with a bull horn.
A police tactical alert was called that kept officers on overtime. Officers reopened the streets at around 6:30 a.m.
The protest was largely peaceful but there were some skirmishes. Four people were arrested for failure to disperse and a few protesters tossed bamboo sticks and water bottles at officers, Commander Andrew Smith said.
No injuries were reported.
A hearing in U.S. District Court is scheduled for later Monday morning on a petition for an injunction to prevent the camp closure.
Both the mayor and Beck said Monday morning that there was no firm deadline to remove the protesters.
"We want to make sure that everybody knows the park is closed and there are services available, that there are alternative ways to protest," Villaraigosa said in an interview with MSNBC. "By the way, we will be opening up the steps of City Hall for protests, they just can't camp out."
Villaraigosa, a former labor organizer himself, earlier said he sympathizes with the movement but felt it was time it moved beyond holding on to "a particular patch of park" and that public health and safety could not be sustained for a long period.
The Los Angeles showdown follows police actions in other cities -- sometimes involving the use of pepper spray and tear gas -- that resulted in the removal of long-situated demonstration sites. Some of those encampments had been in use almost since the movement against economic disparity and perceived corporate greed began with Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan two months ago.
Elsewhere, a deadline set by the city for Occupy Philadelphia to leave the site where it has camped for nearly two months passed Sunday without any arrests.
The scene outside Philadelphia's City Hall was quiet most of Sunday and by early Monday the numbers of protesters -- and police officers -- had decreased.
Philadelphia's protesters have managed to avoid aggressive confrontations so far. By early Monday there was still hope the City of Brotherly Love would continue to be largely violence-free.
But eight people were arrested in Maine Sunday after protesters in the Occupy Augusta encampment in Capitol Park took down their tents and packed their camping gear after being told to get a permit or move their shelters.
In Los Angeles, some campers packed up their tents and belongings to avoid police trouble, but said they intended to return without them in support of their fellow protesters.