With police calling it less of a protest site and more of a homeless camp, Occupy San Francisco’s year-old sidewalk outpost at the doorstep of the downtown Federal Reserve Bank was cleared and fenced off late Wednesday night.
The camp was surrounded by dozens of police officers around 11:30 p.m. and 45 Occupiers were arrested and cited with illegal lodging. The vast majority were processed and quickly released from County Jail, although three suspects were booked for misdemeanor warrants, and one more for a felony warrant.
All that remained Thursday morning were three protesters displaying their dissatisfaction by standing inside a makeshift cage with a cardboard sign reading, “I PROTEST.” Later Thursday night, about 30 protesters returned to the site and had a brief confrontation with police, but dispersed when more officers arrived.
Occupier Raul Delarosa, who handles press inquires for the leaderless group, called the police action Wednesday night “rabid fascism.” Dusti Byers, another remaining protester, refuted the notion that the sidewalk setup was simply a homeless camp.
“A lot of people became homeless, but it was to live in the camp,” Byers said.
Police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said protesters were repeatedly warned last week that they were illegally lodging in the space. The City’s controversial “sit-lie” ordinance is designed to prevent such vagrancy — as the Occupy camp was described by police — but the law includes exceptions for protests, which Esparza said were becoming minimal anyway.
“It was basically a homeless camp,” Esparza said. “It was not the Occupy First Amendment protest that we’ve been seeing. … Basically what we were seeing was people drinking and smoking weed.”
Esparza said even members of the movement were becoming fed up with the camp conditions, which was confirmed by other Occupiers who wished to remain unnamed. All that remains of Occupy’s public activities in San Francisco is a well-organized information booth set up outside the Montgomery BART station at the intersection of Post and Market streets.
The fence that currently rings sidewalk at the former camp is not designed to prevent a re-occupation, Esparza said, but rather to let construction crews fix a water leak in the Federal Reserve building’s basement. Esparza noted that illegal activities — and not the construction project — were the reason the camp was cleared.
The height of the group’s downtown encampments, at the Federal Reserve and Justin Herman Plaza on The City’s waterfront, came to a dramatic end late last year after police raids. Occupy SF demonstrators briefly returned their tents to the plaza during its one-year anniversary protests last week, but they were quickly removed at the request of police.