LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hundreds of anti-Wall Street demonstrators blocked a downtown Los Angeles street on Thursday, snarling traffic on surrounding freeways before police moved in and arrested 23 people.
Protesters first marched through the Los Angeles financial district, chanting “Occupy the Freeways, Occupy the U.S.A.”, and then a small group stood in a circle and held hands on a major downtown street, blocking it, before police moved in.
The Los Angeles march came as cities across the country have taken police action in recent days to dismantle protest camps set up as part of the Occupy movement against economic inequality and excesses of the financial system.
The march also coincided with a planned day of action that saw hundreds of people take to the streets of several U.S. cities, including New York where over 100 people were arrested, in rallies seen as a test of momentum of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The Los Angeles protest took place a few blocks away from where Occupy demonstrators have an encampment on the City Hall lawn, and a handful of people in grimacing Guy Fawkes masks — a style hallmark of the Occupy movement — joined the march.
“I think we’re all saying the same thing, but in a million different ways,” said Good Jobs LA organizer Sandra Gonzalez, 42, in explaining the relationship between her group, which organized the march, and the nationwide Occupy protests.
Gonzalez was later arrested after she and several other protesters blocked a major street by holding hands and forming a circle around three tents.
The protest did slow traffic on freeways surrounding Los Angeles, as police closed at least one major off-ramp due to the crowd.
Organizers said they were protesting against what they said was greed by corporations and their failure to invest in good jobs in the United States. They also argued for increased taxes on the wealthy.
They originally aimed to have over 1,000 people at the demonstration. Police declined to provide a crowd estimate, but the crowd appeared to number in the hundreds.
One of the first people taken into custody in the protest was 81-year-old Bertha Jordan, who was wearing a T-shirt that read “Arrest Wall Street Bankers” and was among those who stood in the middle of a street.
“I’m a senior citizen and I’ve been abused and misused,” Jordan told reporters, before she was led away by police.
A total of 23 people were arrested, most of them for unlawfully blocking the street, Los Angeles police spokesman Lieutenant Andy Neiman said.
The march came hours after police in Northern California cleared away a protest camp from a plaza at the University of California, Berkeley where 5,000 people had gathered Tuesday night in an economic protest.
Meanwhile in Portland, hundreds of Occupy demonstrators gathered on a major bridge Thursday and a small group sat down. Police arrested 25 people there for disorderly conduct, police spokesman Lieutenant Robert King said.
But in Phoenix, a planned occupation of the city’s light rail system by Occupy protesters fizzled. Only 20 to 30 demonstrators showed up at three rail stations, said Diane D’Angelo, a spokeswoman for the local Occupy movement.
“We think they were intimidated, Phoenix is a very conservative city,” she said.
Additional reporting by Teresa Carson in Portland and Tim Gaynor in Phoenix: Editing by Cynthia Johnston