(The Blaze/AP) -- District of Columbia protective services police on Saturday arrested 11 protesters and charged them with unlawful entry after officers cleared a city-owned building in downtown Washington that had been occupied by a group inspired by Occupy D.C.
Supporters of the protesters cheered as officers led demonstrators outside in handcuffs and into two police vans.
The group Free Franklin began occupying the four-story Franklin School on Saturday, protesting the lack of housing for homeless people. The historic building served as a homeless shelter until 2008.
Participants with handkerchiefs over their faces lowered a black banner from the roof that said "Public Property under Community Control." More than 60 supporters gathered in a park near the historic building and cheered the protesters. The building is two blocks from Occupy D.C.'s encampment.
Group spokeswoman Abigail DeRoberts said earlier Saturday that protesters plan to remain in the building indefinitely. A statement on the group's blog read:
"The closure of Franklin Shelter was not an isolated incident; it is part of a wave of austerity measures and structural adjustment policies that are mirrored all over the U.S. and globally, the policies of capitalism pushed by the 1%.Structural adjustment locally and nationally has removed land, plants, buildings, and other community resources from the hands of the people into corporate control. The U.S. government spends trillions of dollars to perpetuate imperialist wars and occupations overseas, and to unjustly imprison millions of people, criminalizing the activities of immigrants and people of color, in a ballooning prison system. Then, the federal and local governments push austerity measures that most impact poor and working class people by slashing funding for basic services for our communities. The crisis of homelessness in DC is part of a larger crisis of affordable housing, with years of rampant gentrification displacing low-income people of color from their homes and from the city, and the foreclosure crisis caused by un-checked banks who continue to rake in record profits while more and more families lose their homes."
Police watched as protesters hung the banner and later called firefighters and more officers to the scene.
Protesters said police and firefighters then entered the building with crow bars and other instruments. Supporters blocked alleys around the building and chanted, "We are the 99 percent."
Demonstrators blocked alleys next to the building even after police officers went inside. The Washington Post reports that protesters had formed a human chain in an alley with hopes of preventing other rescue workers from entering the building.By early evening, the banner had come down.
A spokesperson for Mayor Vincent Gray told ABC7 in Washington that the protesters in the building at 13th and K Street, NW "will be removed and arrested."
Louis Cannon, chief of the D.C. Protective Services Police, told The Associated Press that 11 protesters were arrested inside the building, including eight men and three women. Each will be charged with unlawful entry and could face up to a year in jail and a fine if convicted of the misdemeanor charge. He said none put up any resistance when they were arrested.
"We did a sweep of the building and they were all on the roof," said Cannon, whose agency protects D.C. government-owned, -leased and -managed facilities and property.
The chief said the building is now boarded-up and welded shut, and police are investigating how the protesters gained entry.
He said the building has been vacant since 2008. Cannon said his agency was called to the scene at about 3 p.m. and had cleared the building by 7 p.m., with help from dozens of officers from the Metropolitan Police and U.S. Park Police
Following the arrests, more than 50 protesters remained in the middle of 13th Street, NW, which was blocked off by police cars. Some chanted, "Our children's future is not for sale." More officers arrived at the scene, but the crowd began to break up after the building had been cleared and the arrested protesters taken away.
Protester Ray Valentine of Washington said she felt that the protest had been effective in reopening the conversation about the former homeless shelter because she said the city wants to privatize a public building.
"D.C. is a city that's getting more and more expensive to live in, and the programs that help people keep living here are continuing to be cut," she said.