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Police clear out Occupy New Orleans camp

By Kevin Mcgill

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 6 2011 8:27 a.m. MST

A New Orleans police officer checks a tent for people as they clear out the Occupy New Orleans encampment in Duncan Plaza across from City Hall in New Orleans on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011.

Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Scores of police officers marched into an encampment of protesters and homeless people across from City Hall before dawn Tuesday, forcing the dozens of occupants out and removing tents in a peaceful eviction that drew loud, sometimes raucous complaints but did not result in violence.

"You people are treasonous!" one protester shouted as more than 100 uniformed officers moved through the makeshift camp grounds at Duncan Plaza, a city block of green space that has been home to the loosely knit Occupy New Orleans movement since Oct. 6.

City officials had accommodated the protesters for weeks, allowing the tents — some nothing more than tarps or sheets of plastic thrown over ropes strung between trees — to stand unmolested and even providing portable toilets. But New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu had warned Friday that it was time for the around-the-clock encampment to end. Police had been distributing flyers warning that the park could no longer be used as a camp ground and, on Tuesday around 4 a.m., began ringing the park with barricades in preparation for the eviction.

"This was a display of a very well organized, well thought out, and now well executed effort," Landrieu said at a Tuesday morning news conference.

Landrieu said police and representatives of the city had gone through the camp several times a day since Friday telling people they must leave and handing out flyers telling them to leave.

He thanked the police and the protestors for the peaceful resolution.

"You can see from the way this was conducted it was very different from what happened around the country," Landrieu said, referring to recent violent clashes between police and protesters in other cities.

The move by police came ahead of a hearing later Tuesday during which a federal judge was to consider a request by protesters to issue a temporary restraining order blocking the city from evicting them and an injunction that would allow them to continue their around-the-clock occupation.

Police could be seen escorting some of the protesters out of the camp. One protester was arrested for failure to leave and constructing on a public space, police chief Ronal Serpas said. The man told police he wanted to be arrested, Serpas said. Another man was taken to the hospital complaining of chest pains.

There were no signs of the violence that has accompanied other, larger evictions in other cities where the offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street movement have taken hold.

"I know that they think they're doing a good thing because they're not in here beating us with nightsticks or spraying us with mace. But wrong is still wrong," said Jasmine Bailey, a spokeswoman for the protesters.

But Serpas and other city officials said the protesters were violating the law with makeshift structures in the park and by staying in the park after 10:30 at night.

Once the park is cleaned, Landrieu said protestors were welcome to use it during park hours.

"They can come protest at City Hall if they want to," he said. "They don't have to go across the street."

The protesters' lawsuit says evicting them from the park would violate their constitutional right to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech.

At least 43 homeless people were transported from the park to a facility where their needs could be evaluated and they could be placed in housing, said Stacy Horn Kotch, director of homeless services for the city. Many chose to avoid official offers of help, however.

"I'll take my chances out here," said Pete Frazer, 43. "I don't trust 'the man.'"

The encampment — dozens of tents, an information booth and a covered area where food was served — dates back to an Oct. 6 "Occupy New Orleans" march that drew well over 200 marchers representing a variety of causes. They said they were protesting proposed cuts in Medicare spending, the war in Afghanistan, perceived corporate greed and a variety of other social ills in a spin-off of New York's Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

Although police in body armor and helmets were on a side street, out of sight of the encampment, the officers moving through the park before sunup Tuesday were in regular uniforms with holstered sidearms. One had a bullhorn and was ordering the park's occupants to clear out. Once the occupants were out, trash trucks moved in to start clearing debris.

Protester Verrick Bills of New Orleans said there was no violence or undue force used by police in the eviction. "They have been very polite, very nice," Bills said.

Associated Press writer Mary Foster contributed to this report.

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