SAN FRANCISCO | Wed Dec 7, 2011 9:22am EST
(Reuters) Police dismantled a tent city of Occupy protesters in downtown San Francisco early on Wednesday, arresting more than 50 as they shut down the last major Occupy encampment on the West Coast.
The city had repeatedly warned the protesters to move from the public plaza at the foot of Market Street in recent weeks and tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a move to another location.
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said there were about 100 people in the camp when the police moved in shortly before 2:00 a.m. local time on Wednesday, and about 100 officers took part in the action.
About 50 people were arrested, he said. Two were arrested for felony assault after hitting a policeman in the face with a chair, but the action was otherwise mostly free of violence.
A small group of protesters continued to confront police along Market Street early Wednesday, but they had largely dispersed by 5:30 a.m.
Efforts to clear an Occupy camp in Oakland last month led to violent confrontations between police and protesters and several serious injuries, and San Francisco authorities were eager to avoid a repeat of that.
In Los Angeles, police used a massive force of 1,200 officers to clear a much larger Occupy camp late last month.
Authorities in many U.S. cities, often citing health and safety conditions, have dismantled protest camps that sprang from the original Occupy movement in New York against economic inequality and perceived excesses of the U.S. financial system.
The San Francisco camp had been kept clean and relatively orderly, and enjoyed the support of many local politicians and labor leaders. But local businesses in the area said it was hurting business and some had reportedly threatened to sue the city if they didn’t remove the protesters.
Suhr cited the breakdown in negotiations over a move, as well as scuffles that broke out last week in response to police efforts to keep the camp contained, as the reasons for Wednesday’s action.
Lester Lewis, 36, a city government worker who said he was going to work during the day and camping at night, said as he stood in front of a police line: “If I gotta take a whipping for what I believe in I’m ready to take it.”
Police said Occupy campers would be permitted to retrieve their belongings from the Department of Public Works, though many of the items in the camp were being dumped into garbage trucks early Wednesday.
Nicole Smith, 21, a former waitress from Nebraska said “there are a lot of people who weren’t able to get all of their stuff out, their tents, their sleeping bags.” She said was passing through San Francisco to support Occupy.
Local activists say they are now turning their attention to the foreclosure crisis and will “occupy” homes to prevent evictions.