Occupy Philly forces regroup to await release of those arrested

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A worker power-washes Dilworth Plaza after the eviction of Occupy Philly protesters in the early hours Wednesday. Officials said 52 people were arrested, and Mayor Nutter said placements had been found for 49 homeless people affected.

Regrouping after an overnight eviction from Dilworth Plaza, Occupy Philadelphia participants marched Wednesday through Center City to Police Headquarters, where they awaited the release of 52 fellow protesters arrested during the crackdown.

Toorjo Ghose, 40, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania who was among the first group released from the basement jail Wednesday evening, accused the police of brutal tactics.

"I think we're in an era in this country of militarized police tactics being unleashed on unarmed peaceful citizens," said Ghose, who teaches in the School of Social Policy and Practice.

By 11 p.m. Wednesday, all but four of those arrested had been released.

The arrests followed a police raid on Occupy's encampment on Dilworth Plaza. Mayor Nutter had ordered the protesters to vacate the plaza by 5 p.m. Sunday, but the deadline came and went with no police action.

A little before 1 a.m. Wednesday, that changed.

Diane Akerman, 28, a law student at Temple University and a member of Occupy Philadelphia's legal collective, said police were unnecessarily aggressive with the protesters, especially with the mounted and bike units. "I was pushed with a bicycle against a wall," she said, alleging that the push was unprovoked.

Akerman also was part of the march that got surrounded by police on 15th Street south of Spring Garden Street. The police had boxed in a group of people shortly after 4:30 a.m. and then began arresting people. Akerman said she expected to get arrested, figuring that everyone in the box was being targeted. "At some point, they just stopped arresting people and just walked away," she said.

Nutter praised the police. He called the operation to clear the plaza "tremendously well-planned and executed."

Late Wednesday afternoon, Occupy Philadelphia members gathered at Rittenhouse Square and marched north to Market Street and east toward Police Headquarters at Eighth and Race Streets.

There did not appear to be heightened tension between the marchers and the police who escorted them. However, the chanting stopped as the marchers approached Dilworth Plaza. The procession turned into a silent protest as the participants made their way around to Market Street on the east side of City Hall.

Of the 52 people arrested early Wednesday, 45 were taken into custody in a 5 a.m. faceoff on North 15th Street behind the Inquirer and School District Buildings. All were charged with failure to disperse and obstruction.

Three police officers suffered minor injuries, two while making arrests and one while taking down a tent on the plaza, Nutter said. He said a protester was hurt when a police horse stepped on her foot.

The attempt to disperse the occupiers began about 1 a.m. Wednesday. The District Attorney's Office said the first person arrested was Ryan Stroud, 22, who was taken into custody at 1:55 a.m. when he returned to the plaza.

Tensions rose and ebbed through the night, beginning when police moved to clear the encampment. Police gave protesters at least three warnings that they had to leave the plaza. After the third warning, 15 protesters locked arms and started walking south on 15th.

Thus began a four-hour trek from Dilworth Plaza to Rittenhouse Square, then snaking east toward City Hall before turning north on Broad, and then left on Spring Garden and left again on 15th, where the arrests were made.

One protester climbed a tree to avoid police, clinging precariously to a limb as officers ordered her down. After about 20 minutes, she finally agreed to descend, and officers brought her a ladder and escorted her to the street.

At first, things were relatively calm. But as the night wore on, tensions mounted.

Protesters repeatedly accused police of using their bikes to shove people, and at least twice, a protester ended up on the ground. In one incident, one police officer scolded another for using his bike to shove a marcher.

On 15th just south of Market, protesters and police, including mounted officers, were practically nose to nose as Occupiers accused the force of brutalizing Philadelphians.

In one particularly tense moment, a woman was injured when a mounted officer apparently rode into the crowd. Protesters pressed forward with some shouting from the crowd. Some horses appeared spooked, with one running off as the crowd grew rowdy.

By 3:45 a.m., police had cleared the area around the south side of 15th and blocked it with vehicles.

Workers tossed the remains of the encampment into garbage trucks and dragged away wooden pallets that had become part of the infrastructure.

By 4:30, when the crowd made its way to 15th between Spring Garden and Hamilton Street, the chanting voices had grown hoarse and patience was thin. One officer with a bicycle rammed into an Occupy protester who was blocking the sidewalk. When the young man cried out and threw both hands into the air to show he was not resisting, another policeman asked his colleague to back off.

Paul J. Hetznecker, an Occupy defense attorney who was at the arraignments Wednesday night, said it was too early to comment on rumors of inappropriate police force.

 


Contact staff writer Miriam Hill at 215-854-5520, hillmb@phillynews.com, or @miriamhill on Twitter.

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Robert Moran, Quan Nguyen, and Reity O'Brien.