While other liberal cities have ejected and dismantled Occupy sites for health and safety reasons, Washington, D.C. has not done so. We now know why. The Obama administration has refused to respond to the city’s appeals for help with OccupyDC encampment.
Yesterday in a second letter to the Obama administration Vincent Gray, Washington’s Democratic mayor, again pleaded with the federal government and asked them to evict the OccupyDC protesters who are encamped at McPherson Square in downtown Washington. The mayor says the site is infested with rats, contains unsanitary conditions, is a danger to protesters themselves and has been a continual drain on the city’s police and health department budgets.
Yesterday we learned as early as December 16 Mayor Gray formallyy pleaded for help from the National Park Service. The park is on federal land and the Park Service has jurisdiction over the park . There is a second OccupyDC encampment on federal land at Freedom Plaza. So far the federal government has remained mum.
This compelled Mayor Gray to issue a second letter which was reported this morning by the Washington Post. In the new letter, the Mayor asked the National Park Service to remove the protesters and close down the McPherson Square site. Mayor Gray said McPherson Square was afflicted with “dangerous rat infestation” and other health and sanitary problems. The mayor added that many of the protesters themselves faced hypothermia due to the cold. He repeated his request for the federal government to reimburse the financially strapped city for the unexpected expenses caused by the Occupy protesters.
“I am concerned that the letter I sent you on December 16 remains unanswered,” Gray concluded in the letter.
The protesters have imposed unexpected costs on the city’s police, prisons, courts and health department. The Metropolitan Police Department already has spent at least $1 million in police expenses. Last month, the police department had to dismantle a building the protesters were illegally erecting at the McPherson Square site. Mounted police, demolition equipment, and scores of police officers were assembled at the site in a 12 hour confrontation with the demonstrators. Ultimately 31 protesters were detained and held overnight the city’s jails.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has asked why the Obama administration permitted the demonstrators remain on federal land. “The city is trying its best to protect the health, welfare, and safety of people in and around the campsite,” Issa said. “In this situation, the National Park Service has so far been more interested in making excuses than protecting the public.”
If the federal government ejects the protesters, it would be just the second time in history the federal government evicted protestors. That episode ended badly for the previous administration. In 1932 President Herbert Hoover evicted the Bonus Army, 43,000 World War I veterans who encamped in downtown Washington in a protest over pay for their service during the war. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur drove out the veterans with the wives and children back by infantry and cavalry supported by six tanks. Their shelters and belongings were burned. Two veterans were wounded and later died in the melee.
The eviction proved politically disastrous for Hoover and he later lost in a landslide to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Aside from the wrath he would receive from the Occupy movement, perhaps that link to history might also weigh on the mind of President Obama today.
(h/t Pat Dollard for the front page thumbnail)