At Freedom Plaza’s Occupy cleanup, authorities report a ‘different dynamic’
By Katherine Driessen,
U.S. Park Police swept through the Occupy D.C. camp at Freedom Plaza on Sunday and made one arrest in a scene that was far less contentious than the raid the day before on McPherson Square.
Police were looking for the same types of violations they discovered in the pre-dawn hours Saturday: Evidence of overnight camping and potential biohazards. But Park Police said there has been greater self-policing and fewer potential health-code violations at Freedom Plaza than at McPherson Square, where 11 people were arrested. Rats and feces were found in the square.
Police had shut down streets within two blocks of the park during the McPherson Square crackdown, but the streets and the entrance to the nearby Metro station reopened Sunday afternoon. Much of the police presence at Freedom Plaza had cleared by late Sunday afternoon, with only the northern part of the park cordoned off and traffic clearing down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Sgt. David Schlosser, a National Park Service spokesman, said he expects commuter traffic on Monday to be unaffected by the weekend’s encampment raids.
Although some protesters returned to McPherson Square on Sunday afternoon, Schlosser said officers would be enforcing the no-overnight-camping regulations.
Occupy protesters were notified last week by Park Service workers that overnight camping regulations would be enforced at both District encampments. The Freedom Plaza group has a Park Service permit through the end of February, and Schlosser said there are more “identifiable leaders” there than at McPherson Square.
“There’s just a much different dynamic here,” Schlosser said of the Freedom Plaza protesters. “We have been able to work with people here to protect their First Amendment rights but also keep them safe. That’s the goal here.”
The lone arrest came when a protester made felony threats against an officer, according to Schlosser. Some tents were removed at Freedom Plaza, but officers spent most of the more than three-hour sweep packing bags of clothing and bedding.
“We’re not looking to kick you out,” Capt. Art Jacobsen told protesters. “We are here to work with you. This shouldn’t be a problem.”
But the tenor of the sweep became more serious when police said too many protesters and members of the media were following them, and police began blockading sections of the camp. After an initial sweep in which officers red-tagged tents found to be in violation, they returned with Park Service workers wearing protective suits to disassemble the tents and remove bedding.
“We had to remove tents when they presented a risk,” Schlosser said. “That’s just the nature of keeping them safe. But it’s been pretty smooth here.”
Occupy member Stiff Kurylo, who has been camping out at Freedom Plaza since late October, said there is little animosity between protesters there and the Park Service officers. Kurylo watched from a folding chair Sunday as officers looked inside his tent .
“We know some people were in violation here. They [the officers] were fair about giving us warning,” Kurylo said. “So we’ll comply, but we are also going to keep voicing our opinions. We’re going to keep fighting.”
Although some protesters occasionally voiced their disapproval of the sweep, the dissent paled in comparison with Saturday’s scene at McPherson Square, where protesters pushed against riot shields as police tried to erect additional barricades. One protester threw a brick that hit a police officer, causing “serious facial injuries,” Schlosser said.
Three of the 11 arrests Saturday were classified as assaults on a police officer.
Workers finished the cleanup at McPherson Square on Sunday afternoon, removing substantial amounts of debris from the muddy grounds, Schlosser said. The once tent-packed landscape that had existed on K Street since October looked markedly different after the weekend’s raid. The clearing operation exposed bare and muddy patches of land, and the number of tents appeared halved.
Staff writer Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.