OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) - Police moved in early on Monday and cleared out anti-Wall Street protesters from a downtown Oakland plaza, arresting 33 people but avoiding the sort of clashes that marked a previous attempt to shut down the Occupy Oakland camp.
Several dozen officers dressed in riot gear and carrying batons descended on the square shortly after dawn, but took a less aggressive approach than in a similar operation on Oct. 25 and were met with less resistance from demonstrators.
Officers in some cases were smiling and talking with protesters as they took down more than 100 tents, under illumination from the searchlight of a helicopter hovering overhead. A separate line of officers kept a chanting crowd from entering the camp.
Before the camp was completely cleared, a crowd of protest supporters outside shouted “Shame on you!”
One watching protester, Joanne Warwick, said the police action was disturbing. “Here we are after five weeks and we can’t work this out,” she said.
Describing the early morning raid as a mistake that could trigger more volatility, a top adviser to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan resigned on Monday over the city’s actions.
Civil rights attorney Dan Siegel told Reuters he resigned at 2 a.m., before the raid on the encampment, after insisting police should protect, not dismantle, the camp.
“I feel like the city has really made a mistake in the way in which it decided to deal with Occupy Oakland,” Siegel told Reuters. The decision, he said, was “putting city officials on the wrong side of the dispute.”
In the October operation, police and protesters clashed near downtown Oakland in one of the most violent episodes since the anti-Wall Street movement began in New York in September.
Former Marine Scott Olsen was critically injured during that altercation, giving impetus to the demonstrations across the United States. Olsen, 24, was released from the hospital last week and has called for peaceful demonstrations.
In the late afternoon on Monday, throngs of protesters marched back to the plaza near to City Hall, regrouping hours after officers had cleared the area.
“This movement cannot end!” a speaker told the crowd as the march began outside a downtown library. Police largely stood back, at one point stopping cross-traffic for the marchers who authorities said could return to the plaza but not camp there.
The Oakland group has been among the most visible and active in the Occupy movement, which has mobilized protesters who object, among other things, to a financial system they say only benefits the rich. One major protest temporarily shut down the Northern California city’s port earlier this month.
By morning rush hour on Monday, the City Hall plaza was closed off by fences. Collapsed tents and debris lay scattered throughout the plaza.
Police and a handful of protesters lingered along the edges of the plaza, the latter singing songs at an intersection blocked off by police as commuters rushed by to work.
“We had to bring the camps to an end before more people got hurt,” Mayor Jean Quan told a news conference after the action. City officials hoped to reopen the plaza to protesters by 6 p.m. PST (0200 GMT on Tuesday), but would not allow camping.
“There will be a strong police presence at the plaza 24/7,” said Acting Police Chief Howard Jordan.
The city of Oakland had put out a notice addressed to “Dear Business Leader” on Monday morning, saying the police were enforcing an order issued on Friday.
It said “the City could not assure adequate public health and safety in the plaza” the protesters had occupied, and suggested businesses might want to consider delaying the start of their work days on Monday.
The Oakland operation was one of several in recent days aimed at clearing protesters out of encampments authorities say have become dangers to public health or sources of crime.
The weekend saw police operations in Salt Lake City, Denver, and Portland, Oregon, as well as threats of action in other cities if protesters did not clear out on their own.
In Eureka, California, a Pacific coast city 270 miles (430 km) north of San Francisco, police arrested 33 people in dismantling a protest camp there on Monday.
In St. Louis, attorneys for members of Occupy St. Louis planned to take their battle to regain their downtown campsite to federal court on Tuesday.
They seek an injunction that would allow an overnight presence in Kiener Plaza, the downtown city park near the Gateway Arch where they maintained a camp for six weeks.
Additional reporting by Jim Christie in San Francisco, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, and Bruce Olson in St. Louis; writing by Peter Henderson; editing by Jerry Norton and Todd Eastham