Thursday, December 22, 2011

Occupy Berkeley campers face imminent eviction

Anti-Wall Street activists who have camped out since October in the college town of Berkeley, across the bay from San Francisco, braced for an eviction that city officials warned would be enforced late Wednesday night.
The city distributed flyers announcing plans to shut down the Occupy Berkeley encampment at Civic Center Park starting at 10 p.m. local time, citing an escalating rash of violence and other criminal behavior in recent weeks, capped by an attempted rape on Tuesday.
As the eviction deadline passed, a number of protesters were seen packing up their tents and belongings and leaving on their own, while others milled about waiting for police to arrive.
But police, whose headquarters sits just across the street from the park, remained out of sight as of 11:30 p.m., leaving protesters who lingered to speculate that a raid on the camp might not come until the wee hours of Thursday morning.
Some campers stood around a 12-foot Christmas tree erected in the middle of the park and adorned with electric lights powered by a car battery.
The camp is one of few remaining high-profile redoubts of a 3-month-old Occupy Wall Street movement that sprung up in parks and other public spaces across the United States to protest economic inequality, high unemployment and the excesses of a financial system seen as favoring the wealthy.
A sister Occupy protest on the nearby campus of the University of California at Berkeley, a cradle of 1960s student activism, was broken up in November by campus police who struck some students and faculty members with nightsticks.
Most of the larger protest camps in cities such as New York and Los Angeles were shut down by police in recent weeks.
Only about 25 tents remained at Berkeley's Civic Center Park Wednesday night, about half of the number pitched during the height of the encampment, which began on Oct 8.
Few of the demonstrators who spoke with reporters appeared to be actually still camping there, and some acknowledged that the compound had attracted a large number of homeless individuals and mentally ill people in recent days.
Miles Murray, a high school teacher who has been showing up at the camp on a daily basis after work since October, said the problems seen at the camp exist "all over society."
"The fact that the cops are going to roll through here tonight does upset me," he said. "I wish it was an army of social workers and rehab and housing and actual compassion."
The closure notice, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, warned that anybody found in the park after 10 p.m. on Wednesday, whether camping or not, would be subject to arrest.
City officials also distributed a list of emergency homeless shelters along with the park closure notice, city spokeswoman Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said.
Protest organizers issued a "call to action" in the wake of the announcement, asking for supporters to congregate at the protest site in advance of the expected closure, but the turnout was relatively light, with no more than about 150 people in all visible late Wednesday night.

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