After a tense standoff with protesters at the Occupy SF encampment on Justin Herman Plaza, city officials dismantled the camp early this morning, transforming the six-week-old tent city housing hundreds of people back to its original state in a matter of hours.
The much-anticipated raid came after weeks of actions by police that clipped the size of the group’s encampments, first by taking out a line of tents along Market Street called the Bridge, then by disbanding the original base camp outside the Federal Reserve Building.
Last Thursday, in an incident the press dubbed the Battle of the Barricades, police set up barricades along the perimeter of the camp, which created a tense situation and heightened fears of a raid.
This morning’s raid, which began at 1:45, caught occupiers completely off guard. Police quickly surrounded the camp and occupiers were given five minutes to collect their belongings and leave, or face arrest.
Throughout the night, at least 40 arrests were observed, though no official numbers were available at press time.
“I woke up and heard, ‘Raid, raid, raid,'” recounted Robert Benson. “It happened so fast.”
One occupier who was arrested, William “Red” Hollis, recounted how, after he refused to leave the plaza, police threw him to the ground and rubbed his face into the pavement. He had a number of cuts and bruises on his cheek and ear. Hollis was cited and released.
It was a tense night as protesters defied an order to get out of Market Street. They dragged tables and chairs from nearby businesses and set them up in front of the police line. Meanwhile, Department of Public Works employees dismantled the camp behind the line, tossing tents, belongings and supplies into parked garbage trucks.
James, who lived at the camp for two months, said he was in Chinatown when he saw all the lights from the police vehicles. He knew something was up.
“SFPD is so indifferent about this,” he said, pointing to the line of officers. “Look at them. Hundreds of people are homeless overnight.”
Unlike the last raid in Oakland, when police dismantled the camp on Frank Ogawa Plaza in a nonviolent manner, the SFPD used force against protesters in a number of incidents.
After the occupiers were dislodged from their camp, a minor scuffle broke out on Market as a group of riot police and some officers riding dirt bikes chased a number of protesters.
A few protesters grabbed at the officers on bikes as they rode up to people, and a number of riot police used batons to pushed people back while an arrest was being made.
Police also made quick blitzes on the hundred or so people who were protesting on Market Street, making group arrests in the process. On the first occasion, police warned protesters to get on the sidewalk; when they failed to do so, riot police quickly surrounded at least 20 protesters and arrested them.
This reporter saw police push two protesters from a sidewalk along Market Street into the street, where they were arrested along with the others.
The second time police moved on the protesters, there was no warning. As frantic protesters tried to break for the sidewalk, a few were pushed to the ground by the charging riot police; one officer used his baton to move people into the street.
Protesters plan to rally at noon today outside the Ferry Building and again at 6 p.m., to determine what happens next.