LA Begins Park Cleanup as ‘Occupy’ Pledges to Move Forward

Image credit: AP

As a chain link fence and concrete barricades surrounded the City Hall Park that Occupy Los Angeles protesters called home before an overnight police raid removed them, one of the movement’s lead organizers vowed the fight would continue.

Just after midnight today, 1,400 police officers  raided the park encampment and arrested nearly 200 demonstrators who refused to follow an order to disperse.

“Occupying a patch of land adjacent to City Hall was not sustainable over time because of public health reasons,” Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa said during a news conference today. “Anybody who went through that park knows it was not an exaggeration. It was not hyperbole. It was and is a public health hazard. That’s why you saw police officers in hazmat suits.”

Villaraigosa said the protesters had to be removed as well “to make sure that everyone has access to City Hall steps.” Today he and Police Chief Charlie Beck thanked both law enforcement and the demonstrators for a relatively peaceful day.

Villaraigosa said that sanitation workers had been working throughout the night in the park, which was littered by trash and flattened tents and smelled of urine. According to The Associated Press, the park’s lawns were covered with two months’ worth of clothing, tents, bedding, shoes, trash and other debris.

Workers planned to use skip loaders to remove the debris.

“Replacing the lawn will cost us a lot of money,” he told reporters today. He said the cost of theraid and the park’s repair “may go beyond a million [dollars], certainly.”

In a statement earlier today, Villaraigosa said that the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority had previously walked through the park to assess the needs of those who had nowhere to go. He added that during the park’s closure, a First Amendment area would remain open on the Spring Street City Hall steps.

Occupy Los Angeles was one of the first groups in the Occupy movement to pop up after Occupy Wall Street began in New York on Sept. 17. It had been one of the largest and least volatile of the worldwide Occupy encampments.

Mario Brito, a lead organizer of Occupy Los Angeles, said during a news conference today that activists would start occupying the neighborhoods where bank executives have homes. He also said demonstrators were calling for a moratorium on home foreclosures.

Villaraigosa said today that he expected more Occupy protests.

“If their movement is to move beyond this stage, it will have to be peaceful,” he said. “Working together, we can respect the right of people to speak out against the government, against injustices.”