How will Occupy L.A. end?

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Occupy L.A. has occupied the grounds outside City Hall for nearly two months. City leaders, to their credit, did not pick a fight but welcomed the protesters and allowed them to camp out. But it’s crunch time now. New York has dispersed its Occupy demonstrators, Oakland has battled with its activists, and it is becoming clear that Los Angeles is disinclined to allow its protesters to stay too much longer.

PHOTOS: Day of protest

There have been a lot of smart reasons for the city and the Police Department to sanction the weeks of illegal camping overnight in a public park — “a very minor infraction,” LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith points out. Strong-arming a group of non-violent political demonstrators would have looked bad. And the ongoing presence of the protesters has been healthy for public debate. The Occupy movement, proudly leaderless, has done a surprisingly good job of raising consciousness about wealth disparities — who is not now familiar with the 1% and the 99%? Its spirit has inspired protests on university campuses against tuition hikes and budget cuts. And Occupy L.A. — as fuzzy as its political aims and as disparate as its denizens are — has managed to pull off the unusual feat of bringing some center to the center of the city as it draws campers and curious visitors alike.


But as a campground, City Hall is not ideal. The encampment, which has filled with protesters as well as with homeless people seeking a safer haven than skid row, has limited sanitation. The lawn is gone, lice have been a problem and at least five arrests have been made, including for several violent incidents, Smith says. City and police officials have said that it will end at some point, although, as Smith put it Thursday, “there is no timeline.” The police are right to be cautious. The last thing the LAPD needs is another debacle like the 2007 May Day rally in MacArthur Park, in which poor planning and bad decisions left marchers and journalists injured. According to Smith, police are informally talking with Occupy L.A. protesters about when they plan to leave.

We hope that however it ends, there will not be a repeat of the violence of Oakland or the midnight rousting in New York. Los Angeles’ is among the last of the big encampments still standing. Now the protesters and city officials face their greatest challenge. Police conducted a series of so-called orchestrated arrests of 23 people on Thursday during a downtown protest that drew some of the participants in Occupy L.A. In that case, police talked with protesters before any arrests, and those who were detained knew it was about to happen. If some people have to be removed from the City Hall camp, that might be one approach. Better still would be an orchestrated finale involving no arrests — with protesters and police agreeing on an exit strategy.