National Park Police invaded Occupy DC, McPherson Square in the early hours of Saturday morning with riot police, a dozen horses and a strategic plan to eliminate the encampment.
Then throughout the day, they went section by section with a fully dressed hazardous materials team, cordoning each part of the camp off with heavy wrought iron fencing and inspecting and bagging up protesters' property. Any tent with a semblance of camping materials inside was confiscated along with all belongings inside.
By the late afternoon only a few tents were left standing in the cleared sections. The small number of protesters, which never grew over 200 people, attempted to shout down and fight back police, but they were easily overwhelmed by the large police presence. Most of the time the police matched protesters in numbers.
The clearing of the camp signals a possible end for the rowdy, 128-day-old McPherson camp, which had gained notoriety after a testy protest at an Americans for Prosperity event at the DC Convention Center. The police action proved that even federal police will enforce camping bans at Occupy protests, even if there is doubt about whether it's constitutional under the First Amendment.
The police did not close down the park, or ask protesters to leave. In that way they respected the occupiers' right to a 24-hour vigil while simultaneously enforcing a camping ban, which they notified the camp they would do last Friday.
"They've met us intellectually," said Kelly Mears, a programmer who has helped out the Occupy DC tech team, "They're allowing the 24-hour vigil while enforcing camping regulations. I'm glad they didn't just come in here and beat people."
"You can't fault the cops for doing this, they can't just let them live here forever," said a bystander wearing a peacoat who had come to watch the clearing.
The only times the clearing became violent was when protesters attempted to block police from fencing off sidewalks to clear sections of the camp. Police slowly moved down the sidewalk with their riot shields forcing screaming protesters off to the side while they set up barricades. I saw one man get knocked down by a riot shield and multiple protesters struck with batons as they tried to force police back.