A legion of officers in riot gear cleared Occupy San Diego protesters out of their unauthorized urban squatters' camp at Civic Center Plaza early Friday, arresting dozens of activists who refused to cooperate with the predawn expulsion.
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The dismantling of the downtown tent community, deemed an unlawful assembly by the city, began about 2 a.m. and lasted roughly 45 minutes, according to San Diego police. There were no reports of injuries as 40 people were taken into custody, though two of the detainees resisted and had to be forcibly subdued, SDPD public affairs Lt. Andra Brown said.
During the sweep, overseen by Police Chief William Lansdowne and his highest-ranking department heads, some of the demonstrators relocated south to Children's Park. Since that recreation area is closed daily between midnight and 6 a.m., officers cleared it, as well, taking 11 more people into custody in the process.
Participants in the three-week-old rally -- part of a loose-knit nationwide movement against perceived corporate greed and government corruption -- reassembled later in the morning for a solidarity march. They wound up at SDPD headquarters on Broadway just as a news conference on the law enforcement crackdown was getting under way.
Inside a conference room, Assistant Police Chief Boyd Long addressed reporters to the sounds of dozens of protesters chanting and beating drums in an adjacent courtyard. Among the slogans shouted by the group was "Let them out!" referring to their jailed comrades.
Those arrested -- 37 men and 14 women, ranging in age from 18 to 50 -- will face charges of illegal lodging, unlawful assembly, resisting police and encroachment on public property, Long said.
"The department supports the rights of those who choose to peacefully protest," he said. "However, we must balance those rights to (ensure) that they do not impede upon the rights of others or allow for violations of the law."
As the downtown encampment remained set up in recent days despite clean-up orders, city officials deemed it a public nuisance.
"We'd received complaints from the (concourse) facility staff regarding human and animal feces, urination, drug use, littering and damage to city property," Long said.
The police personnel who showed up at the civic center en masse Friday morning gave the demonstrators ample opportunity to remove their things, and most of the campers complied, according to the assistant chief.
"Officers then began moving slowly across the plaza, providing an exit for those wishing to leave," he said.
Long discounted reports that police had stepped on or walked over a tent while demonstrators slept inside.
"That is not true, to my knowledge," he said. "The chief, I and other members of the command staff were watching the entire event. Those officers were slow; they were methodical."
Mayor Jerry Sanders praised the police department's handling of the volatile situation.
"I thought our officers did an excellent job," he said while attending a late-morning San Diego Association of Governments board meeting downtown.
Regarding the timing of the sweep, the mayor said Lansdowne appeared to have chosen the dead of night as "the least confrontational time."
"We don't care if (the demonstrators) go anywhere," he said. "They have a legitimate right to protest wherever they want. They just have to follow the guidelines."
Noting that the squatters had been asked dozens of times, in a non-confrontational manner, to remove their shelters and other trappings from the plaza, Sanders said the lingering assembly had raised safety concerns as well as potential sanitary problems.
"They shouldn't have been shocked that this happened," he said.
Occupy San Diego members can return to the concourse any time to express their free-speech rights as long as they do not set up camp again, Long said.
Shortly after daybreak, workers began giving the courtyard a thorough cleaning as a group of protesters stood behind a row of police officers at the nearby corner of Third Avenue and B Street. Watching the crew spray down the pavement with high-powered hoses, one of the ousted dissidents yelled, "Thank you for washing my house!"
By mid-afternoon, about 30 demonstrators had returned to the plaza and were milling around next to the Civic Theatre, with roughly the same number of police officers posted nearby.
Beginning at 8 p.m. Friday, the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council planned to join with the demonstrators at the concourse for an all-night "solidarity vigil" as a means of helping "bring attention to the economic crisis a majority of Americans are facing," according to a statement from the union group.
Protestors showed up Friday night, standing strong for their cause at Civic Center Plaza and vowing to be peaceful.
However, protesters began lashing out at officers after put police put up a barricade. Then, hundreds of people poured into the intersection of Third Avenue and B Street.
One man was arrested on Friday night after he became aggressive with police by putting his fingers in officers' faces and shoving them. Police had asked him and another man who were pretending to be asleep to move.
Kalli Kat was one of the 51 arrested during the early Friday morning raid on Civic Center Plaza. After 12 hours in custody, she posted bail and spoke with 10News about her ordeal.
"[It was] obviously kind of scary," she said. "You may want to run, but I felt like holding my ground for what's important to me."
Kenzie McDonald was arrested early Friday morning at Children's Park. She also posted bail and joined back up with the movement later Friday night.
"I was trying to walk away from the situation and someone grabbed my hair, dragged me to the ground and put me in zip ties," she said.
A total of two were arrested on Friday night. Almost all who were arrested Friday morning have posted bail.
Protesters first converged on the site Oct. 7 to take their assorted stands against purported misdeeds of banks, corporations and politicians. The movement began in New York last month and has since spread nationwide.
The local rally has been largely free of confrontation, with the major exceptions being this morning's sweep and an Oct. 14 scuffle during which officers pepper-sprayed about a half-dozen protesters and arrested two of them while clearing camping gear from the public space next to City Hall.
In defiance of city officials' orders to keep the concourse clear of shelters, sleeping bags and other large personal items, demonstrators began erecting tents there again earlier this week.
Participants in the ongoing social-justice rally have vowed to remain in the downtown area until their demands -- including meaningful action addressing joblessness, poverty and political corruption -- are met or at least seriously considered.
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