Thursday, November 10, 2011

Occupy Portland camp given deadline to vacate

Portland's mayor on Thursday ordered Occupy Portland to take down its tent city on two adjacent downtown parks by midnight Saturday, saying conditions at the camp have become dangerous, unhealthy and a refuge for criminals.

Mayor Sam Adams said Occupy Portland "has had considerable time to share its movement's messages with the public, but has lost control of the camps it created."

Many officials in this progressive city have supported the message of Occupy Wall Street and have sought to work with organizers of Occupy Portland so the movement can be sustained here.

But what began as a protest against Wall Street morphed into a support center for the city's homeless and addicted population, a refuge for thieves and people who have previously had trouble with the law, and radicals who have favored confronting police rather than working with them. Police have linked campers to break-ins at local businesses, bike thefts, public drinking and smashing a police car window with a hammer.

Adams said the tipping point came this week with the arrest of an Occupy Portland camper on suspicion of setting off a Molotov cocktail outside an office building, as well as two non-fatal drug overdoses at the camp.

"I cannot wait for someone to die in the camp," Adams said. "I cannot wait for someone to use the camp as camouflage to inflict bodily harm on others."

He said Lownsdale and Chapman squares, now the site of the tent and blue-tarp city, will be closed as of 12:01 a.m. Sunday. When it reopens, the city will enforce laws against camping and erecting structures, the mayor said.

Police and city officials will immediately begin talking with people at the camp to try to persuade them to move before the deadline. Adams said homeless people at the camp will be put in touch with agencies that will help them find shelter.

"We will be prepared to make arrests," Adams said. "My preference would be that we don't have to."

The downtown camp of about 300 tents and tarps went up on Oct. 6 after a march in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Protesters were sheltered by donated tents, fed by donated food and cared for by volunteer doctors and nurses. But it became a magnet for people not originally part of the movement. Sanitary conditions worsened. Businesses complained of theft.

Occupy Portland was able to set up camp at the two downtown parks because of a waiver granted by city government.

City officials and police have communicated with Occupy Portland organizers during the protest, trying to ensure things didn't get out of control. But officials' patience began growing thin when activists sought to occupy another park on Oct. 30. Police dragged away 27 of the activists when they refused to leave.
Protesters marched over two bridges on Nov. 2. They declined to inform police about the march route, forcing officers on bicycles, motorcycles and in squad cars to follow and block traffic for more than an hour. An officer was pushed into a moving bus sometime near the end of the march, police said. He received just minor injuries.

Adams said his order that the tent city come down "is not an action against the Occupy Portland movement" and he hopes it will continue _ but not where the camp is now.

"It is my sincere hope that the movement, with its focus on widespread inequity, will flourish in its next phase _ a phase where we can focus all our energies on economic and social justice, not on porta-potties and tents," Adams said.

Talk at the camp on Thursday turned to alternatives, including occupying a building in southeast Portland and occupying Portland's City Hall. A meeting was scheduled for noon on Thursday to discuss the next step.

Some protesters said they had invited the closure. A 21-year-old man who gave his name as Sam W. for fear of retaliation from other protesters said the "people who came to party" were the source of the problem.

"We had great relations with police when we started," he said. "The people in this camp brought the police baton down on their own damn selves. They'll be the first ones to leave, too."
Other protesters said they would not leave.

"Hell no, I'm not vacating," said Joseph Gordon, 31, who left Cincinnati for Portland before the protests began. "They can come in here and find me."

A 26-year-old woman named Emma said she wouldn't leave. "If we break up the tribes, that leaves us without any other options," she said. "The only power we have is in numbers."

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