Police break up Occupy Wall St. camp in Richmond

October 31, 2011 - 8:55 AM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Police cleared out a downtown plaza early Monday that had been home to Occupy Wall Street protesters, ordering out dozens of people who had encamped there since Oct. 17 and arresting those who refused to leave.

Officers began clearing the park around 1 a.m. and most of the protesters left when told to and around a dozen who stayed were arrested for trespassing, police spokesman Gene Lepley said.

The occupation, inspired by the anti-Wall Street protests in lower Manhattan, had blossomed into a tent city, with dozens scattered around Kanawha Plaza in the city's financial district. The site also included a library, a volleyball net and a large blue tarp strung up on three magnolia trees.

One of the protesters, Ira Birch, said the park was surrounded by a "huge line of cops" and police cruisers with their blue lights flashing. An officer read ordinances that the protesters were violating and told people to gather up their possessions and leave. She described the scene as "pretty peaceful."

Birch gathered up her laptop, a modem and other belongings before she left but many left tents, sleeping bags and other possessions, she said. "I actually left a tent there," she said.

A pile of tents, sleeping bags and other possessions was left outside the plaza early Monday as police cruisers with flashing lights remained on the streets surrounding it. At least one cruiser was on the plaza.

Mayor Dwight C. Jones visited the Occupy encampment last week and told the protesters he would have city officials meet with protest representatives to discuss the continued occupation of the grass-and-concrete park in front of the Federal Reserve Bank high-rise.

Lepley said he did not know who told police to clear the plaza.

Birch said the Occupy protest was surprised and disappointed by the city's actions.

"The mayor said they wanted to talk and we thought that was a positive sign," said Birch, a Virginia Commonwealth University student from Timberville. "I think everybody's pretty sad."

A spokesman for the mayor did not immediately return a message left by The Associated Press.

Birch said the police action had only strengthened the resolve of protesters, who have cited a litany of complaints but generally have targeted what they call corporate greed and income inequality. Activist filmmaker Michael Moore had tweeted the Richmond police action, which Birch said pleased protesters.

"The feeling today is that this is going to make us stronger," she said. I think more people are going to support us now."

Protesters have been arrested in cities including Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; Oakland, Calif.; Atlanta and Nashville, Tenn.

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Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap .