Los Angeles – It had all the makings of a showdown: shouting protesters, police officers in riot gear, with batons drawn as they pushed forward to disperse the crowd. But in the end, as the deadline for Occupy Los Angeles protesters to clear their tents from City Hall passed early Monday morning, there was hardly a commotion.
Of the thousands of people protesting, just four were arrested, officials said. When the police continued to press forward to the ire of some protesters, a few threw sticks and plastic water bottles at the officers, who stood by with dozens of plastic handcuffs strapped to their waists. But at dawn, the police withdrew from the area without trying to break up the encampment.
Once again, Los Angeles officials appeared to give the protesters far more leeway than their counterparts in the other parts of the country have received in the last several weeks.
Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa had set a Monday morning deadline for protesters to clear their tents and other possessions from the camp, which is on the grounds of City Hall. A group of protesters filed for a federal injunction against the move, saying that it was a free speech violation. The lawsuit also accuses the mayor and the police chief of overstepping their authority without involvement from the City Council, which had given protesters an exemption from a ban on overnight public stays.
Officials have not said when they might move on the encampment of several hundred people, but Los Angeles Police Department officials said the goal Monday morning was primarily focused on allowing downtown traffic to move unimpeded.
“As we’ve said before, this isn’t sustainable long term, but for now our focus was just getting people off the street, which we did peacefully,” Andrew Smith, a spokesman for the police, said early Monday morning. “If people want to get arrested we can certainly accommodate that.”
Mayor Villaraigosa has repeatedly said that protesters would be given ample notice before the police began making arrests in the park. He said that by Monday evening nearly half the tents had left the park, a sign that the deadline was working and that arrests could be avoided.
“What we wanted to do is to say the park is closed and we will enforce it, but we will do so in a way that continues the path we’ve charted and encourages people to comply with a minimal amount of force,” he said. “We’ve said from the very beginning we understand the message and we want to do this in a different way. We are ready to enforce at any time that minimizes potential conflict.” While the police department has been criticized in the past for excessive force, many protesters have praised the officers for acting with restraint.
PJ Davenport, a protester, said both sides had behaved reasonably, which prevented the sort of violence that has accompanied similar exchanges in recent weeks between Occupy demonstrators and the authorities in Oakland, Calif.; New York; and elsewhere.
“It wasn’t in their best interest to come in when there are thousands here,” Ms. Davenport said of the police. “They knew that, and we knew that. They’ve done an exceedingly good job with this all along.”
The city’s deadline appeared to have brought out far more protesters than on a typical Sunday night, though many departed soon after the police arrived. Even as they took out their batons during the confrontation, the police seemed to try to be conciliatory.
“Thank you so much for being here,” a voice from inside a police department truck blared over its loudspeakers as the vehicle moved along Spring Street at 1:30 a.m. “We are so glad it is peaceful, and we really need you to cooperate by getting off the streets.”
In Philadelphia, the police had not moved to break up that city’s Occupy encampment after a 5 p.m. deadline passed on Sunday, and dozens of tents remained there Monday afternoon.
The city has said that the protesters have to move to make way for a construction project on the plaza. It has approved a part-time demonstration permit across the street but has banned tents or overnight activity.