Police move in to forcibly evict Occupy protest at St Paul's

By staff writers
28 Feb 2012

Police have moved in to forcibly remove Occupy anti-corporate greed and economic injustice protesters from the their site at St Paul's Cathedral in London.

OLSX organised a live video feed of proceedings as they unfolded.

Occupy LSX was refused permission to appeal against a High Court decision to allow eviction at the Court of Appeal last week. The camp, which has received international support, has been in place since 15 October 2011.

Christians and others vowed to maintain and non-violent ring of prayerful protest as the eviction takes place - after hundreds pledged to the act of witness.

A number turned up at late notice, including Quakers, members of Christianity Uncut, Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley and associate director Symon Hill.

"It's all happened so quickly it was difficult for people to get into position," commented Bartley from inside the police cordon, adding that "things have gone peacefully."

The prayer ring did establish itself but was forced apart by police, participants reported, and then pushed outside the police line.

The Rev Dr Giles Fraser, the former Canon Chancellor at St Paul's was kept outside the cordon and not allowed through initially.

Reporters have alleged that some police occupying the steps of St Paul's (which they were asked to vacate by Dr Fraser back on 15 October) threatened to arrest them if they did not move on.

The 'last stand' in the centre of the square consisted of around twenty protesters linking arms and hands around wooden pallets.

As riot police moved in, one protester told journalists: "This is not the end. The movement goes on. I plan to occupy Buckingham Palace next."

Another commented: "Our greatest achievement has been to transform the life of many homeless people who have been given a function within our community."

An observer said on Twitter that "St Paul's Cathedral Churchyard is eerily floodlit, as hundreds of police and bailiffs encircle the campsite."

Another remarked: "Banks create global economic meltdown, [and there is] not one arrest by police. Occupy protest about it, [and the] police move in. What a great country we live in."

And a fifth said: "As the police evict OccupyLSX from St Paul's, consider the irony: St Paul was a tent maker."

Protesters and their supporters have been described as handling the distressing situation "calmly and responsibly", though some in the media had talked up fears of violence.

There were early reports of police with riot shields seeking to push small groups of campers. Tents have been destroyed, and one man was seen kneeling quietly amidst the destruction.

Bailiffs and the Corporation of London are facing criticism for a night-time raid, which has been described as "a deliberately intimidating tactic". Some tense moments have been reported.

London police say they were present "to ensure public safety" as bailiffs clear tents from St Paul's.

The camp has been a creative site for educational initiatives, seminars on global finance, and working groups on financial reform, economic alternatives and action to change the structure and culture of the City of London.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, commented: "This is a very sad day. The Occupy camp at St Paul's has been a powerful symbol of the need for concentrations of power to be made accountable, devolved, redistributed and just. Now corporate interests are evicting those who have disturbed their 'business as usual'. But the imaginative work of the Bank of Ideas and the social, economic and educational alternatives that have flourished as part of OLSX will undoubtedly find new ways forward and fresh focii."

He added: "Many people will be puzzled and disappointed that the Chapter at St Paul's declined repeated requests to oppose forcible eviction of the Occupy camp, siding behind the scenes with the Corporation of London. As the eviction takes place, it is to be hoped that the Cathedral recalls its historic Christian duty to be a site of refuge for those fleeing violence and injustice.

"Meanwhile, the Ring of Prayer, as a symbol of both resistance and nonviolence, will perhaps be seen as performing the kind of function that institutional religion cannot do, charting a different path for Christian conscience. Long after tonight, the lessons and further opportunities of these developments deserve to be reflected and acted upon."

St Paul's Cathedral has come under criticism for its vacillations over the protest. Canon Giles Fraser resigned after his initial hospitality towards the camp was undermined, and possible Cathedral backing for a forced eviction became a distinct possibility.

Then the former Dean closed the Cathedral on 'health and safety' grounds that puzzled many, when it seemed that they were already being addressed cooperatively. He too resigned, but over over the mishandling of the situation. The Cathedral Chapter, together with the Bishop of London, then began to express sympathy for Occupy promising cooperation and joint work on addressing economic injustice.

But as Ekklesia and others noted in January 2012, a Cathedral representative actually gave evidence for the unelected Corporation of London at the High Court. The Corporation has remained determined to remove protesters by force.

A letter from clergy, theologians, church workers and lay people asking St Paul's Cathedral to state its opposition to a forcible eviction was politely but clearly rebuffed recently.

Ironically, while official Church responses to the Occupy movement have often been confused or ambivalent, many grassroots Christians have come to see it as a signal of what a renewed Christian community could be in the world: a seedbed for alternative living and practices in the face of corporate greed, violence and injustice.

It is also the protest camp - populated by people of many beliefs and none - who have put the question 'What would Jesus do?' on the map, rather than the institutional church.

* Livestream of police action at St Paul's Occupy site in London - http://dlvr.it/1Fn3Wg

* Episcopal Cafe (USA) live blog feed: http://tinyurl.com/74f82q4

* Ekklesia twitter feed live reporting: https://twitter.com/simonbarrow

[Ekk/3]

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