BALTIMORE — Occupy Baltimore demonstrators who spent 10 weeks protesting economic disparity were removed peacefully from a downtown plaza near the Inner Harbor tourist district during a pre-dawn raid Tuesday.
Baltimore City police in full riot gear moved into McKeldin Square about 3:30 a.m. to remove the protesters, who had been camped out at the site since Oct. 4. City police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told WBAL-AM the scene was "extremely peaceful, very, very civil."
Demonstrators said about 30 people were camped out in the plaza at the time. A spokesman for the city's mayor, Ryan O'Doherty, said 23 people were taken to a city shelter and that no arrests were made. Ryan said "the city made it very clear that they were allowed to protest all day and into the night, but that camping is prohibited."
Protester Mike Gibb, a 21-year-old from Bel Air who participated in a march with Occupy Wall Street protesters from New York to Washington, said the eviction from the square marks "Phase 2" for the movement. Gibb said demonstrators will begin squatting in vacant housing all over the city.
"Occupy Baltimore will be coming to a neighborhood near you," Gibb said. He added that the mayor had "opened a can of worms."
Twenty-three-year-old protester Leo Zimmerman, a freelance copywriter, said he awoke to find the area "encircled by a group of officers in face masks, helmets and batons." He said the group had dealt with the same officers in the past and that they seemed apologetic during the raid.
Zimmerman said demonstrators were given about 15 minutes to leave the plaza and that it appeared police chose to raid the square at a time when there were fewer people there.
By 6 a.m., the demonstrators had been cleared out of the plaza and only one tent remained standing. Items including tables, chairs, pots and other housewares were assembled in the middle of the plaza. A temporary fence had been set up around the site and workers were loading bags of trash into trucks.
City officials recently denied Occupy Baltimore's request for a permit to continue their protest in the plaza and cut off their power supply. Demonstrators have been at the site since Oct. 4 and had hoped to extend their protest into April. The number of people at the site had fluctuated depending on the time of day and the weather, but participants had said more than 20 people slept there most nights.
Authorities said a woman was charged with assault in a stabbing at the site earlier this month.
The move by Baltimore officials comes as Occupy Wall Street protesters on the West Coast, heady with their successful attempts to block trucks and curb business at busy ports, said they plan to continue their blockades and keep staging similar protests. Thousands of demonstrators forced shipping terminals in Oakland, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and Longview, Wash.; to halt parts of their operations Monday and some intended to keep their blockade attempts ramped up overnight.
Early Tuesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued a statement in which she said that the city is "committed to protecting individuals' right to protest" but that the city's public parks and green areas should not be treated as a permanent campground.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.