A protester is arrested as Los Angeles police officers evict protesters from the Occupy Los Angeles encampment outside City Hall in Los Angeles Nov. 30, 2011. / AP Photo/Lucy Nicholson/Pool
LOS ANGELES - More than 1,400 police officers, some in riot gear, cleared the Occupy Los Angeles camp early Wednesday, driving protesters from a park around City Hall and arresting more than 200 who defied orders to leave. Similar raids in Philadelphia led to 52 arrests, but the scene in both cities was relatively peaceful.
Police in Los Angeles and Philadelphia moved in on Occupy Wall Street encampments under darkness in an effort to clear out some of the longest-lasting protest sites since crackdowns ended similar occupations across the country.
The Los Angeles officers staged for hours outside Dodger Stadium before the raid. They were warned that demonstrators might throw everything from concrete and gravel to human feces at them.
"Please put your face masks down and watch each other's back," a supervisor told them. "Now go to work."
The police operation was planned at night because downtown is mostly vacant, with offices closed, fewer pedestrians and less traffic, but a spokesman said it could make officers more vulnerable. "It's more difficult for us to see things, to see booby traps," Lt. Andy Neiman, told pool reporters. "Operating in the dark is never an advantage." Neiman said the force was prepared to deal with demonstrators holed up in the camp or those who had climbed up trees in the small park.
Before police arrived in large numbers in Los Angeles, protesters were upbeat and the mood was almost festive. A protester in a Santa Claus hat danced in the street. A woman showed off the reindeer antlers she had mounted on her gas mask.
Fireworks exploded in the sky at one point. Later, as helicopters hovered above, someone blew "The Star Spangled Banner" on a horn.
Campers planning to defend the camp and hold their ground barricaded entrances to the park with trash cans.
Gia Trimble, member of the Occupy LA media team, said a lot of people committed to the cause would stay and risk arrest. "This is a monumental night for Los Angeles," Trimble said. "We're going to do what we can to protect the camp."
In their anticipation of an eviction, the Los Angeles protesters designated medics designated with red crosses taped on clothing. Some protesters had gas masks.
Organizers at the camp packed up computer and technical equipment from the media tent.
Two men who constructed an elaborate tree house lashed bamboo sticks together with twine to push away any ladder police might use to evict them.
Members of the National Lawyers guild had legal observers on hand for an eviction.
As officers first surrounded the camp, hundreds of protesters chanted, "The people united will never be defeated."