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Occupy DC faces eviction as deadline passes

 

An Occupy protester sits at the McPherson Square Occupy encampment in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2012.

Occupy protesters chanting "let us sleep so we can dream" set up a large, blue tarp with the words "tent of dreams" in the nation's capital as a noon deadline to end camping at some of the movement's last remaining large encampments passed.

The National Park Service said in a flier released Friday that it would begin enforcing regulations prohibiting camping and the use of temporary structures for camping at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza. Individual violators may be subject to arrest and their property subject to seizure as evidence, the flier said.

Washington Post live-blogs Occupy D.C.

Justin Jacoby Smith, a 25-year-old activist with OccupyKSt and member of their media team, said the protesters at McPherson Square had plans for the deadline but noted: “We’re still sorting of keeping the specifics under wraps … we like to have surprises when we can.”

Still, by noon the blue tarp, also decorated with the words "dream together" and yellow stars and a moon, could be seen in the square via a video livestream. "This is what democracy looks like," protesters chanted.

“Today what we’re trying to do is make sure that everyone knows that when you enforce a regulation against sleeping then you can’t dream of a better world, either … when you can’t sleep, you can’t dream," he said. "We’re going to make sure that we still have the opportunity to dream and that the people in this demonstration that have no place else to go are kept safe from the criminalization of homelessness that this order effectively creates.”

Officers would be on site to monitor the situation and try to get protesters to comply, Carol Johnson, a Park Service spokeswoman, told msnbc.com on Friday. Compliance entails removing all camping materials and leaving one side of all temporary structures open.

“People can be there 24 hours a day, but they can’t live there, they can’t sleep there,” she said.

“We still do back the First Amendment, and it is their right. It is not their right to camp. And ... we would, you know, support them if they came into compliance and they had a vigil and they had tents that were there for logistical or symbolic purposes,” she added. "They can occupy as a vigil but not camping."

More than 80 arrests have occurred at the two sites, including for public urination, drunkenness, assault and drug use, she noted.

On Sunday, a protester at one of the camps -- in McPherson Square -- was Tasered and arrested following a confrontation with law enforcement, according to NBCWashington.com. A video of the incident, posted on YouTube, shows the man yelling at officers, "We all know you're coming tomorrow."

Many of the Occupy camps were closed across the country last fall and early winter, and the sites in the nation's capital were two of the bigger outfits remaining.

The Park Service noted that two "compliant" 24-hour First Amendment vigils have been running in Lafayette Park and near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial since the early 1980s. Johnson said they were "very small" vigils and also noted that they were not evicting the Occupy protesters.

But the McPherson Square camp said it was a de facto eviction: "Rather than own up to the fact that they're evicting us, the 'camping ban' allows NPS to pick us off one by one. Death by attrition," read a tweet from the OccupyKSt twitter account.

The action by the Park Service also comes after the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Subcommittee held a hearing last week about the McPherson Square encampment.

"Late is better than never," Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the subcommittee on the District of Columbia, said in a statement after learning of park authorities' notice. "I continue to wonder whether others who are 'camping' in national parks would have been afforded a 100-day grace period before the law was enforced."

Occupy groups across the country continue to assemble and organize protests, with about 400 demonstrators in Oakland arrested late Saturday after authorities thwarted their attempt to take over a vacant convention center for a new camp site. Some protesters broke into City Hall and smashed glass display cases and burned the U.S. and California flags, while others ran into a YMCA to evade police.

At least three officers and one protester were injured. Mayor Jean Quan said the cost to the city related to the Occupy Oakland protests is about $5 million.

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