Supporters of Occupy LA have been sounding the alarm all day about a supposed LAPD raid of the encampment after tonight's midnight deadline. As an organizing tactic, it's working: the crowd in the City Hall park right now is said to be larger than last night, with departed ex-occupiers more than replaced by new visitors. Some bloggers and media types have done their part to whip up excitement on Twitter, falling for the line that the park will be cleared at midnight. Only one problem — neither the LAPD nor Mayor Villaraigosa have said anything about a forcible eviction tonight. If anything, the official messages have been that while the gathering becomes illegal again at midnight, police don't plan to rush in and arrest protesters who remain camped out. Back-channel chatter reported in the media suggests no police engagement until dawn at the earliest, and LAPD chief Charlie Beck has said his cops won't be the first ones to use force.
"The department will allow campers ample time to remove their belongings peacefully and without disruption," Villaraigosa said in a new written statement Sunday night that talks about several outreach steps planned for Monday. Interviewed later on the red carpet at the Hollywood Santa Claus parade, Villaraigosa said he expects everything to go peacefully but repeated that the decision to make the City Hall park off-limits to campers was his. He's still leaving it vague, though, about what eventually happens with protesters who decline to leave.
And here's one of the live streams from Occupy Los Angeles:
* 10:40 p.m. update: Channel 5 reporter David Begnaud said on the air (and on Twitter) that an Occupy LA activist just showed him a "smoke bomb type device" he vowed to use when the LAPD moves in. The activist also said he had given several to others in the park. "I was stunned," said Begnaud.
Villaraigosa's full statement below:
As I stated this past Friday, it is time for Occupy LA to move from focusing their efforts to hold a particular patch of parkland to spreading the message of economic justice and a restoration of balance to American society.
That is why tonight, City Hall Park, where protesters and others have camped for nearly 60 days, will officially close.
While Occupy LA has brought needed attention to the economic disparities in our country, an encampment on City Hall grounds is simply not sustainable indefinitely. We will close and rebuild the park so that any individual will have the opportunity to use this free speech zone to exercise their first amendment rights at City Hall.
During the park rehabilitation, the Spring Street steps of City Hall will remain open during park hours for the Occupy LA movement and other organizations that wish to exercise their freedom of speech.
As Chief Beck has made clear, though the park will officially close tonight at 12:01 a.m., the department will allow campers ample time to remove their belongings peacefully and without disruption.
I am proud of the fact that this has been a peaceful, non-violent protest. It has been peaceful because we have done things differently in Los Angeles.
I trust that we can manage the closure of City Hall Park in the same spirit of cooperation. To facilitate a peaceful and orderly departure from the park, we will take the following steps tomorrow:
1. Officers with General Services police will walk through the encampment handing out bilingual flyers with information about the park closure.
2. Workers from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority will also walk through the encampment to inform people about social and public health services that are available.
3. Starting Monday, we will make 50 shelter beds available for those individuals from the encampment who are homeless and will need an alternate place to spend the night. Winter shelters will open Thursday, December 1, increasing the number of beds available.
4. We will make nearby parking available to make it easier for people to move their belongings and personal property. We have and will continue to work hard to ensure that the park closure will be peaceful and non-violent.
The movement has played an important role in focusing the national conversation on economic equality. I encourage them to expand their efforts far beyond the confines of the City Hall Park in the coming months.
City Hall photo: LA Observed