Hundreds of Occupy LA protesters remained hunkered down today, facing the threat of forcible removal some time this week from their already shrinking tent city in the shadow of City Hall.
The city declared last week that residing in the encampment would be unlawful starting 12:01 a.m. Monday, but the widely expected police raid that would have resulted in the removal of the tents and their occupants never occurred, with police Chief Charlie Beck saying Monday that a raid could come later in the week.
Officers will clear the camp when they can "do it effectively and efficiently and with minimal force," he told the Los Angeles Times, asserting that the encampment already had shrunk by 150 tents over recent days and that time was on the department's side.
Other observers say the number of tents has plunged from a high of about 500 to about 250.
The scene remained calm overnight at the encampment, where, significantly, grass could be seen, indicating several protesters have packed up. Most camp residents appeared to be sleeping inside their tents, but on the steps that lead from the tent city to City Hall, about 40 protesters stood talking as some 10 LAPD officers watched from across the street.
A short distance a way, a few Occupy LA protesters played soccer under faint lighting provided by street lights, and two women could be seen carrying boxes away, apparently having decided it was time to return home. About 10 LAPD squad cars could be seen parked a block away.
"It's the afterglow of the celebration of not being raided," was how one of the protesters, 28-year-old Will Rubin of Los Angeles, described the scene."But now we have to plan what we do when we get raided."
Attorneys for Occupy L.A. protesters filed court papers Monday asking a federal judge to prevent police from clearing the City Hall camp. The protesters contend the city of Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Beck violated their civil rights by ordering the encampment dismantled.
According to the protesters' attorneys, the south lawn of City Hall is a traditional public forum for First Amendment activity.
"The City Hall lawn, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, is one of the most sacred places for the exercise of the right to assemble and protest," said National Lawyers Guild President James Lafferty, a named plaintiff in the federal court filing.
According to the court papers, the city engaged in "arbitrary and capricious action" by first "approving the Occupy L.A. camp for 56 days before suddenly revoking permission."
The protesters contend the city has made other exceptions to an ordinance that prevents people from staying in public parks after 10 p.m., including for thousands of people who camped out in Exposition Park waiting for tickets to receive free medical services.
Attorneys also argue in the petition that Villaraigosa's order to close the park violated a City Council resolution adopted in October expressing support for the encampment.
It was not immediately clear when a ruling on the filing might be forthcoming.
Beck, meanwhile, said he isn't worried that the LAPD's approach will make the task of eventually clearing the park more difficult.
"This is the Los Angeles Police Department," he said. "No one is more capable of laying down the law than we are. No one should have any illusions that this will be a difficult crowd management for us. No one should have any illusions that this is a sign of weakness, inability or lack of will from the Police Department."