The eviction of Occupy Baltimore protesters from a park near the Inner Harbor was carried out "in a respectful way," Baltimore's mayor said this morning, adding that she was pleased there were no injuries or arrests.
"It certainly wasn't going to go on forever and we decided it was time," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said after a ground-breaking for a housing development in Fells Point. She added, "This is not about the [Occupy] message … The message resonates with me. It resonates with people across the country."
But some involved with the protest said they were disappointed the city had used police clad in riot gear to move the group from McKeldin Square during the early morning hours.
Iris Kirsch, 30, who said she was an English teacher in Baltimore schools, was holding up a hand-made sign to Pratt Street traffic that read: RIOT COPS? REALLY?
Asked whether the eviction was handled respectfully, she said, "The words were polite, but the 70s riot gear belied the politeness."
Leo Zimmerman added, "I'm kind of irritated but I'm not that surprised, given the pattern we have seen in other cities. I had hoped Baltimore would be different because this city is dispossessed from the national system, from the bottom to the top. … It's a bummer that they did things this way, with the riot police."
Protesters planned to meet outside City Hall later today to discuss their next steps. And several members of the Occupy movement said that leaving McKeldin Square could be a positive step.
"You don't keep hammering on a tactic when that tactic is producing diminishing returns," said Cullen Nawalkowsky. "The physical occupation is just one part of the broader movement."
During the eviction, about 40 people grabbed their belongings and left the encampment, surrounded by police wearing shields and carrying nightsticks who stayed on the periphery. Those who were homeless were given the option of climbing into city buses to be taken to a shelter.
The eviction, long alluded to by city officials, brought the 10-week protest to an end. For the most part, protesters seemed disappointed to be leaving but said police had been respectful.
"I'm very impressed by the level of civility that's been shown. There's mutual respect on both sides," said Mike Gibb, 21. "It's nothing like Oakland, nothing like Los Angeles."
Others said the eviction was abrupt and unnecessary. "It's 4 in the morning," said Derrick Marshall, 34, who left behind a backpack with books and medicine. "They could've done this at 4 in the afternoon. It's cold. … Everything I own is back there."
City officials had reiterated that they would "take action at a time of our choosing" when asked of their plans for the protest. That time came at 3:18 a.m., when marked police cruisers began blocking off a radius around McKeldin Square, blocking trucks and other cars from leaving via Light Street.
Next, dozens of officers in riot gear fanned out and formed a perimeter. A helicopter buzzed overhead. A man in the encampment began yelling "Mic check!", presumably to awaken the others, who were told by police that they had 20 minutes to gather belongings. After they were cleared, tents were dismantled and garbage trucks moved in.
Officials said they had cleared the scene before 7 a.m., in time for the morning rush hour.
Police and city officials gave no advance warning to media or the protesters, but The Baltimore Sun was able to observe the eviction as it unfolded.
"The City of Baltimore is committed to protecting individuals' right to protest," the mayor said in a statement released to coincide with the eviction. "However, our public parks and green-spaces should not be treated as permanent campgrounds and camping is prohibited. Individuals are free to peaceably assemble and demonstrate within the currently established guidelines."
Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, said the eviction was "very civil on both sides." "It speaks to the long standing relationship we have had with the people of Occupy Baltimore," he said.
Mayoral spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said 23 people took advantage of city vans and went to homeless shelters. "It was uneventful," O'Doherty said of the eviction.
O'Doherty would not say whether Baltimore copied how other cities handled the protesters.
He said city officials are pleased that many of the homeless protesters took advantage of the bus rides to the shelter, calling homelessness "one of the biggest challenges of the city."
Belongings collected will be taken to the Western Sanitation Yard, 700 Reedbird St. in Cherry Hill, he said.
While some of the protesters moved on — to destinations unknown to them — 20 stayed and chanted slogans like, "Put away the riot gear, we don't see a riot here." A gaunt cat climbed on one of the men as they discussed where to go.