Streets within two blocks of the downtown park were shut down because of the raid, which was characterized as “further enforcement” of a no-camping crackdown that began Monday.
There were tense moments. Late in the afternoon, a police officer was struck in the face by a thrown brick. A man was taken into custody in connection with the incident.
In McPherson Square, where protesters once slept, ate hot meals and snuggled in friendly “cuddle puddles,” they can now stay overnight only if they stay awake, keeping only unfurnished tents for the purpose of a round-the-clock vigil, police said.
“They can have the tents for symbolic purposes only. So long as there is compliance, we will have no issues,” said Sgt. David Schlosser, a Park Police spokesman. “Their First Amendment rights are paramount.”
Protesters and police at first interacted in good humor Saturday as they negotiated taking down the big, blue “Tent of Dreams,” which protesters had unfurled over a Civil War statue Monday. But relations grew tense as the day wore on and police began clearing the park of several truckloads of bedding and trash. At one point, dozens of officers pushed back the crowd with riot shields so they could erect more barricades.
“We’re being evicted without tear gas,” said Melissa Byrne, a protester from the District.
Schlosser said that police had moved in to do temporary “nuisance abatement” and that cleaning crews had found health hazards that included filthy bedding, bottles full of urine and several dead rats.
Four people were arrested when they refused to leave an area where the cleanup was underway, and they were charged with failing to obey a lawful order. Three others were arrested later and charged with crossing a police line.
Occupy protesters, demonstrating against economic inequality, have been living in McPherson Square and a similar camp at Freedom Plaza since October. But they have been criticized in recent weeks by congressional Republicans and District officials concerned about health, safety and cost issues.
After the National Park Service announced a week ago that it would begin enforcing the longtime camping regulations, protesters were told that they could not have overnight gear or sleep at the park, prompting some to go on “sleep strikes.” But while some complied with the rules over the past week, others remained encamped at McPherson.
Ann Wilcox, a member of the National Lawyers Guild who serves as a volunteer legal adviser to the group, said that although the pace may be slower, what is happening at McPherson is little different from high-profile Occupy closures at New York’s Zuccotti Park and elsewhere.