In stark contrast to the violent repression of the Occupy Wall Street marches across the nation, authorities in Los Angeles, California, showed restraint towards protesters outside City Hall even after a Sunday midnight deadline for their evacuation passed.
Although pepper-spray and tear-gas have been periodically deployed against Occupy protesters ever since its inception in mid-September in New York City, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in an interview on Monday morning that his office had made it “absolutely clear” that it was not sustainable to be at that City Hall Park space indefinitely.
The absence of violence in one of the earliest sites of the Occupy protests on the West Coast of the United States was a far cry from the scenes in Oakland, California, and University of California at Davis.
In Oakland, war veteran Scott Olsen suffered a serious skull injury after being struck in the head by a tear gas canister last month. Oakland also saw a second veteran, Kayvan Sabehgi, involved in an attack by police that left him with a lacerated spleen. Earlier this month national outrage was sparked by police pepper-spraying peaceful, seated students at UC-Davis in the face.
The situation in LA did have moments of tension as police in riot gear moved in on the protesters from three separate directions after the passage of the deadline. According to media reports, police had estimated that the overall crowd had expanded to at least 2,000 people by 11.30 p.m. local time. Yet only three arrests were reported by daybreak, each of those due to protesters blocking the streets rather than for their occupancy of the park space.
Although the park space had been officially closed since the evacuation deadline, Mr. Villaraigosa added that he had held discussions with the Occupy protesters about alternative spaces that they could use.
A civil discussion between protesters and the Mayor’s office on the use of alternative spaces was said to be underway. “They proposed a space that we thought was inappropriate but we did talk to them about some space where they could continue their movement, continue to raise these issues, but not do so at City Hall Park,” the Mayor noted.
The Mayor nevertheless indicated that protesters’ eviction from the park space may be imminent if they did not voluntarily move. “My hope is that they will... understand that departure is imminent and [that] this is not sustainable,” he said, adding, “We will be opening up the steps of City Hall for protest – they just cannot camp out [there].”
In a rare show of empathy with the protests, Mr. Villaraigosa said that from the very beginning their view had been that the Occupy protesters had put a light on the growing disparities between wealth and poverty in America, the growing concentration of wealth, and the evisceration of the middle class. He said that it was not their objectives that his administration had taken umbrage to but the fact that camping in the park space was not healthy and “it has become more and more chaotic.”