Protesters in the Occupy Wall Street movement seized a Bank of America branch in the city's financial district Wednesday, a demonstration that forced jittery customers and employees to flee and ended in nearly 100 arrests.
It took about 40 police officers in riot gear nearly four hours to clear the bank, but no one was injured. Police said many of those arrested were UC Santa Cruz students who were protesting fee increases and budget cuts.
Police removed the protesters methodically, placing them in plastic handcuffs, citing them for misdemeanor trespassing and sending them off in police wagons for further processing.
“You're the 99!” the protesters told them as the arrests began.
They scrawled messages in chalk on the bank walls — “Greed!” and “Give Us Back What You stole!” — and plastered pink phone message slips on desks and computer screens. One man was seen urinating in a corner.
The siege began after several hundred protesters gathered for a rally at noon in a plaza near the waterfront and proceeded to march across town to the Civic Center. The route was designed to take marchers past buildings where members of the UC Board of Regents have offices.
When the crowd reached the Bank of America branch, organizers opened the door and ushered protesters inside. They jumped on desks and banged drums while bank employees huddled behind a counter.
“Banks got bailed out; we got sold out,” the protesters chanted in a mood more jovial than angry. “People united will never be defeated!”
After consulting with the police, bank managers tried to reclaim the lobby.
“I respectfully ask you to protest outside,” a bank official told the protesters, while shooing away a customer who tried to deposit a check. Most of the demonstrators left and continued on their march, but about 100 remained, setting up a tent in the lobby and sitting on the floor.
Demonstrators outside pinned a group of police officers attempting to enter the building and tried to grab their guns and batons, San Francisco Police spokesman Officer Carlos Manfredi said. Other officers used batons to create a wedge to free the officers, Manfredi said. He said there were no injuries.
Once inside, the police waited for reinforcements before arresting the protesters, who chanted,
“We shall not be moved!” and “You're sexy, you're cute, take off your riot suit!”
A protest organizer told those who remained inside the bank what to expect if they were arrested.
“If you have a record, you might want to think twice about getting arrested,” he warned. Some were advised to call the National Lawyers Guild for help.
Many of the protesters included UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz students, who joined Occupy San Francisco demonstrators to denounce bank bailouts and tuition increases. Unions chartered buses to take Berkeley students and others to the noon rally and march.
The bank was targeted because one of the UC regents, Monica Lozano, publisher of the newspaper La Opinion, also serves on the board of Bank of America Corp. “Where is Monica?” protesters chanted.
Those demonstrators who did not want to get arrested completed their march to the Civic Center, where they staged a late afternoon rally near a state building.
Meanwhile, despite a ban on encampments, about 15 tents remained Wednesday on UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza, the scene of many historic protests over the decades.
UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said campus police were so busy in the aftermath of the Tuesday shooting of a gunman at the business school that they were not immediately moving to evict the campers who set up Tuesday night.
But he said the eviction would proceed at some point. He said the university had to balance the protesters' free speech rights with the rights of other students to move freely through the area.