BALTIMORE – Occupy Baltimore demonstrators who spent 10 weeks protesting economic disparity were removed peacefully from a downtown plaza near the Inner Harbor tourist district during a pre-dawn raid Tuesday.
Baltimore City police in full riot gear moved into McKeldin Square about 3:30 a.m. to remove the protesters, who had been camped out at the site since Oct. 4. City police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said there was no resistance from the people staying at the site.
"The whole event was orchestrated well, which speaks to our relationship with Occupy," Guglielmi said. "Everything was done very peacefully."
Demonstrators said about 30 people were camped out in the plaza at the time. A spokesman for the city's mayor, Ryan O'Doherty, said 23 people were taken to a city shelter and that no arrests were made. O'Doherty said "the city made it very clear that they were allowed to protest all day and into the night, but that camping is prohibited."
Protester Mike Gibb, a 21-year-old from Bel Air who participated in a march with Occupy Wall Street protesters from New York to Washington, said the eviction from the square marks "Phase 2" for the movement. Gibb said demonstrators will begin squatting in vacant housing all over the city.
"Occupy Baltimore will be coming to a neighborhood near you," Gibb said. He added that the mayor had "opened a can of worms."
Twenty-three-year-old protester Leo Zimmerman, a freelance copywriter, said he awoke to find the area "encircled by a group of officers in face masks, helmets and batons." He said the group had dealt with the same officers in the past and that they seemed apologetic during the raid.
Zimmerman said demonstrators were given about 15 minutes to leave the plaza and that it appeared police chose to raid the square at a time when there were fewer people there. The group said it was given a "free speech notice" that the said the city "is committed to protecting individuals' right to protest" and advised them of where they could collect their belongings.
Occupy Baltimore members gathered on the steps outside a skyscraper across the street from the plaza on Tuesday morning to discuss their next moves as workers finished cleaning up the plaza. They decided to gather at the plaza in front of City Hall in the afternoon and hold their nightly general assembly meeting there. From there many left to collect their belongings from a city sanitation yard.
City officials recently denied Occupy Baltimore's request for a permit to continue their protest in the plaza and cut off their power supply. Demonstrators have been at the site since Oct. 4 and had hoped to extend their protest into April. The number of people at the site had fluctuated depending on the time of day and the weather, but participants had said more than 20 people slept there most nights.
Authorities reported a handful of disturbances, including assaults, at the site, but said the encampment was generally peaceful.
The eviction comes a week before an annual menorah lighting, an event that already had a permit to use the plaza. Organizers had said they expected to share the space with Occupy Baltimore.
The move by Baltimore officials comes as Occupy Wall Street protesters on the West Coast, heady with their successful attempts to block trucks and curb business at busy ports, said they plan to continue their blockades and keep staging similar protests. Thousands of demonstrators forced shipping terminals in Oakland, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and Longview, Wash.; to halt parts of their operations Monday and some intended to keep their blockade attempts ramped up overnight.
Early Tuesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued a statement in which she said that the city is "committed to protecting individuals' right to protest" but that the city's public parks and green areas should not be treated as a permanent campground.
She later said that demonstrators were told that the city would clear the park at a "time of our choosing" and that she understood the reasons behind the protest.
"This is not about the message," Rawlings-Blake said. "We understand the message, it resonates with me and it resonates with people across the country. I understand that people are fighting for more jobs, but we have to respect the public park."
Associated Press writer Alex Dominguez contributed to this report.