U.S. Park Police on Monday began quietly enforcing a no-camping rule at two Washington sites where Occupy protesters have been demonstrating for months. But despite heightened tensions, there were no arrests reported by the afternoon and no forced evictions.
Some Occupy protesters had been bracing for a possible confrontation since Friday, when the National Park Service warned demonstrators that they must stop camping at the sites by noon Monday. Those who defy the order or violently resist could face arrest.
The demonstrators, some with faces obscured by masks and bandannas, seemed prepared for police to try to evict them. A large white sign visible Monday at one of the entrances to McPherson Square, one of the two Occupy sites, read: "High Noon U.S.A. Park Police Showdown." Yet noon came and went without any forced eviction, and Sgt. David Schlosser, a Park Police spokesman, said officers were trying to take an "incremental and measured" approach by reminding demonstrators of the deadline and urging them to respect the camping ban.
He said some of the few dozen remaining demonstrators had already followed the order, though he did not know how many. He declined to discuss a timeline for eviction, though he said the camping ban pertained not only to sleeping on the grounds but also to possessing bedding materials such as blanket and pillows.
At nearby Freedom Plaza, many protesters had packed up their belongings and opened the flaps of their tents in an effort to comply with the no camping rules.
Marja Hilfiker, 67, had her tent open and her belongings in a backpack. She said Freedom Plaza occupants were "trying to cooperate and resist at the same time."
Said Hilfiker: "We want to keep the movement going. It's an important symbol for the country."
The mood was more spirited at McPherson Square, where demonstrators covered most of a statue of Major General James McPherson, a Civil War figure for whom the park is named, with a blue tarp that said "Tent of Dreams" — an apparent violation of regulations, Schlosser said. The crowd danced, passed out Occupy-themed newspapers and chanted the now-familiar mantra of "We are the 99 percent!" as well as "Let us sleep so we can dream!"
Jeremiah DeSousa, a McPherson Square protester from Charlotte, N.C., said he would not be deterred by the regulation but he did not know exactly how he would respond if threatened with eviction.
"Them coming in with the fliers of, 'You can stay here but you can't sleep' — that's not going to stop us," DeSousa said, 29. He added: "I'm going to take it as it comes. I'm going to let my actions by dictated by their response."
The Occupy DC movement has continued uninterrupted since October, but a relationship that had been largely peaceful in the first two months of the encampment turned rockier in December. About 30 were arrested early last month and refusing to descend from and dissemble a wooden structure they had they erected in McPherson Square. And about five dozen were arrested several days after that during a mass demonstration that shut down Washington's K Street.
The most recent scuffle happened Sunday, when a police officer used a Taser-style gun to subdue a protester.
The demonstrators have also lost the support of some early backers, such as Mayor Vincent Gray, who this month called on the National Park Service to remove the Occupy group from McPherson Square amid concerns of a rat infestation and other health concerns. He suggested that they relocate to Freedom Plaza. Last week, National Park Service head Jonathan Jarvis told a House subcommittee that the camping ban would soon be enforced against individuals.
A federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday on a request to prevent the National Park Service from enforcing the camping ban. A judge has already ruled that the protesters must be given advance notice of an eviction attempt, except in the event of an emergency.
Authorities here seem determined to avoid the type of mass clash seen in other cities like Oakland, where more than 400 protesters were arrested Saturday in demonstrations marked by rock and bottle throwing by protesters and the use of tear gas by police.
Aaron Sinift, an artist who periodically visits McPherson Square in support of the movement but does not spend nights there, predicted a peaceful resolution.
"Everything will be all right in the end," he predicted. "Cooler heads will prevail, and I think we'll be able to make our point without any real disruption."