"It certainly wasn't going to go on forever, and we decided it was time," she said after a ground-breaking ceremony for a housing development in Fells Point. "This is not about the [Occupy movement's] message… The message resonates with me. It resonates with people across the country."

Still, the encampment encountered several problems, including disagreements among leaders and issues of crime.

In late October, a woman alleged that $1,800 was stolen from her. In November, advocates for sexual assault victims had criticized protesters for distributing pamphlets that requested anyone attacked immediately contact the group's "security committee" and seemed to discourage involving law enforcement. And earlier this month, a 23-year-old woman was charged with stabbing another woman during an argument about a cat.

Rawlings-Blake's administration had previously tried to negotiate with the group, asking, for example, that it limit overnight campers to two members, and ultimately turned off the electricity to the square. For weeks, the mayor said she would clear the park, but at a time of her own choosing.

That came shortly at 3:18 a.m. Tuesday, in a carefully choreographed police operation. Police cruisers began blocking off streets around the square. Dozens of officers in riot gear fanned out and formed a perimeter as a helicopter buzzed overhead.

"It's four in the morning," protested Derrick Marshall, 34, who left behind a backpack with books and medicine. "They could've done this at 4 in the afternoon. It's cold. … Everything I own is back there."

Marshall was among those who gathered later in the morning on the steps of the Transamerica building to begin plotting their next moves. They voted to spend $30 from their arts and culture fund to buy supplies to make new signs and to meet again on the plaza outside City Hall.

While some at least initially wanted to try to re-take McKeldin Square, citing its symbolic role in the local movement, others argued for moving the group in a new direction.

"I think we can survive and get stronger. The whole movement isn't about the space," said Anne Marie Rush, 31. "I see this as being very positive for us."

Group members aired differences of opinion, taking turns talking, listening and wiggling their fingers in the now accepted signal of agreement among the Occupy groups that have emerged in various cities. Some in the Baltimore group wanted to focus attention to opposing a new youth detention center, for example, while others raised issues ranging from homelessness to the closing of post offices.

Roughly 100 people assembled again later, at 8 p.m., on the plaza outside City Hall to hear first-hand stories of the nighttime raid and reflect on the movement's goals.

Even if the protesters don't return to McKeldin Square, it won't be totally empty for long. As they re-grouped, two rabbis from the Lubavitch movement were already at the square to look it over in advance of erecting a 35-foot menorah there in honor of Hannukah.

As they did last year, the organizers from the Lubavitch movement arranged with the city to have a parade that culminates with the menorah being lit on Dec. 20 to mark the first day of Hanukkah. The rabbis, though, said they did not request the site be cleared for their event.

"There's plenty of room here," Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan said.

His colleague, Rabbi Levi Druck, said representatives of the Occupy group had contacted him previously to make sure they didn't impede the Jewish celebration. "We told them we didn't plan to use the area they were in," Druck said, noting that the protesters had generally camped near the square's fountain while the menorah would be erected closer to the street.

Occupy members largely vowed to look forward not backward, with several saying they had already chosen to stop spending the night on the square anyway. But, they added, they hadn't abandoned the cause, merely its original location.

"We're all over the place. We do occupy Baltimore, in a non-ironic way," said Damien Nichols, 29. "We are the 99 percent. We work the jobs. We already occupy this town. This is our town. This is our city. We take great pride in Baltimore. Expect to see plenty more of us."

Sun reporters Justin Fenton, Ed Gunts, Peter Hermann, Steve Kilar and Alison Knezevich contributed to this article.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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