CHICAGO (Reuters) - Police arrested around 175 demonstrators at a nascent protest camp in a downtown Chicago park early on Sunday, hauling them away in vans and buses even as protesters vowed to carry on their campaign against economic inequality.
The Chicago protests, linked to the Occupy Wall Street movement that sparked weekend demonstrations around the world, drew more than 2,000 people on Saturday and into the early hours of Sunday. Marches in New York and Los Angeles attracted about 5,000 people each on Saturday.
But the predawn arrests scuttled, at least for now, plans by the Chicago protesters to build a protest camp similar to that in New York’s Zuccotti Park, the Manhattan hub of the Occupy Wall Street movement that began last month.
After the arrests, demonstrators in Chicago said they were plotting a way forward, grappling with issues including trespassing laws barring occupation of public spaces, organizing challenges and dropping temperatures.
The arrests happened after protesters marched on Saturday from Chicago’s financial district, where some have spent the night on sidewalks, to Grant Park where they hoped to set up camp despite a law barring the public from city parks after 11 p.m.
“We went in knowing that we were going to occupy,” said Kyle Miskell, a 24-year-old computer technician, adding he was among those arrested. “We were hoping the city would say, ‘OK, let them occupy here.’ But it didn’t work out that way.”
Police warned them to leave. But some protesters linked arms around the tents, saying they were willing to be arrested. Others stood across the street to chant and sing on the sidewalk in a gesture of solidarity.
“They were given warnings, advised of the statute and that they were in violation, and they chose to stay,” Chicago Police spokesman Daniel O’Brien said.
Police took down close to 30 tents after hauling away the last of the arrested protesters early on Sunday, protesters said. At least one protester said the police acted “humanely.”
Miskell said the protesters “definitely need a more permanent residence” more comfortable than the financial district sidewalk they currently occupy.
“Sleeping on the streets in November and December in Chicago is not a good idea,” he said.
Another Chicago protester, an intensive care nurse, said that as the Chicago movement grew it needed a “more visible, yet safe” place to call home.
“There has been talk about people trying to reoccupy Grant Park tonight. When the police were tearing down the tents, there was a chant of ‘We have more tents,’” said the woman, 31-year-old Heather Fallon.
In New York, where the movement began when protesters set up camp on September 17, 92 demonstrators were arrested on Saturday and early on Sunday for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, police said.
More than a dozen were demonstrators arrested in Washington Square Park for violating the park’s midnight curfew.
Another roughly 20 protesters were arrested late on Saturday in Raleigh, North Carolina, and about 50 were arrested in Phoenix.
In addition to the U.S. protests, demonstrations stretched into Sunday in London, where about 250 people set up camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral, vowing to occupy the site indefinitely to show their anger at bankers and politicians over the global economic crisis.
The protests, in Asia and Europe as well on Saturday, were mostly peaceful apart from in Rome, where the demonstration sparked riots.
American protesters are angry that U.S. banks are enjoying booming profits after getting bailouts in 2008, while many ordinary Americans are struggling to stay afloat in a difficult economy with more than 9 percent unemployment.
They also believe the richest 1 percent of Americans do not pay their fair share in taxes and want a more equitable economic system.
Some protesters said they were pleased with the weekend’s turnout, although some marches were smaller than organizers had expected and it was unclear if the movement, largely driven by social media, would sustain its momentum. Critics have accused it of lacking clear goals.
Occupy LA organizer Clark Davis was exuberant over the 5,000 people who marched through the streets of Los Angeles and gathered peacefully outside City Hall.
“Wow, they really showed up,” he said.
In New York, Troy Simmons, production manager for a health food business, said he was surprised turnout was not larger.
“People don’t want to get involved. They’d rather watch on TV,” he said.
Additional reporting by Brad Dorfman in Chicago, R.T. Watson in Los Angeles, Ray Sanchez in New York; Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Eric Johnson, editing by Cynthia Johnston