Tensions between Occupy DC protesters and law enforcement increased Sunday afternoon with the arrest of a demonstrator and the approach of Monday’s noon deadline to enforce a ban on overnight camping.
Tempers flared around midday after police subdued a protester in McPherson Square with an electric shock. Several protesters accused the police of using excessive force, saying the demonstrator had been handcuffed by two police officers before a third used the electronic device to stun him.
Police on scene confirmed that a person had been subdued with a Taser and arrested but gave no further details.
The encounter occurred as Park Police passed out flyers warning of the deadline to begin enforcing a longstanding ban on camping overnight in the square and Freedom Plaza. A protester, who is known as “Lash,” became angry when police entered his tent, other demonstrators said.
“He told them: ‘Get out of here, get out of my tent. You’ve already given us enough of these,’” said Tracy Keith, 49, a researcher from Raleigh, N.C. who has been in the square for months. Keith said the protester ripped up the flyer and followed the police around the encampment tearing down other flyers as the confrontation escalated .
Ellie Milne, 23, of the District, said three officers used excessive force by using a taser on him after he was already in handcuffs.
“My mother is a police officer, and I grew up trusting the police, but this was blatant police brutality,” Milne said.
Milne, who works as a nanny, said the officers then dragged Lash out of the park as he pleaded for an ambulance. Other protesters became angry when police instead put him in a police vehicle.
But the driver of a passing SUV shouted praise to police officers who were in a tense standoff with a group of demonstrators after the arrest.
Robert Fields, who visited the square Sunday, also said it was time for the occupiers to go and criticized authorities for allowing the tents to remain so long.
“This is camping, I’m sorry,” said Fields, 56, of Manassas. By late afternoon, calm returned, and demonstrators posted a video showing some of the encounter on YouTube.
The video suggests that Lash was not handcuffed when he was tased.
But some protesters said Sunday’s arrest created a confrontational mood ahead of Monday’s deadline. In a written statement, Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton urged demonstrators to show authorities “the same respect and civility that [the National Park Service] and the District of Columbia have shown to Occupy DC.”
At the base of Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson’s statue, demonstrators met to talk over their next move. Some tried to evict a reporter as the discussion turned to whether protesters should submit to arrest en masse if police begin removing tents and what the overarching message of their protest should be.
“A lot of the movement has focused on confrontation. But the real reason we’re here is, we have a deep hope — and this may sound like a cliche - that another world is possible,”said Kathleen G. Sutcliffe, 32, a former journalist who now works for a nonprofit. “It’s not about scuffling.”
Watch the Occupy D.C. live camera from McPherson Square.