PORTLAND — Portland’s mayor on Thursday ordered one of the largest Occupy Wall Street camps in the country to shut down this weekend over concerns about unhealthy conditions and the encampment’s attraction of drug users and thieves, but a faction of protesters pledged to resist any eviction attempts.
Mayor Sam Adams issued the ultimatum to leave by midnight on Saturday because Occupy Portland “has lost control of the camps it created.”
“I cannot wait for someone to die,” he said. “I cannot wait for someone to use the camp as camouflage to inflict bodily harm on others.”
What began as a protest against Wall Street has morphed into a support center for the city’s homeless and addicted population, a refuge for 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 the smashing of a police car window with a hammer.
Adams said the tipping point came this week with the arrest of a camper on suspicion of setting off a Molotov cocktail outside an office building, as well as two non-fatal drug overdoses at the camp, which has 300 tents and tarps on two adjacent downtown parks.
People at the camp who refuse to leave by the deadline will be arrested, Adams said. Occupy Portland organizers on Thursday were discussing how to respond — some at the camp say they will go voluntarily, others say they intend to resist.
“Hell no, I’m not vacating,” said protester Joseph Gordon, 31. “They can come in here and find me.”
The two parks 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. Homeless people at the camp will be put in touch with agencies that will help them find shelter, Adams said.
At a meeting Thursday of about 200 people in front of City Hall, three camps emerged among the protesters: Expand the occupation, end it or stay and fight at midnight Saturday. Those who advocated staying at the camp advised other protesters to fashion gas masks from two-liter bottles of soda, avoid wearing contact lenses and write an emergency legal-aid number on their bodies to call when arrested.
The closure of the camp presents a potential for violence, as at least one dozen so-called Black Bloc anarchists have taken up residence in the encampment. The anarchists do not believe in the state’s authority to forcibly remove people and have been involved in conflict with police in other cities.
Alexander Christian, 20, said he would not “lie down” when police arrive.
“To make us leave, they’re going to have to force us,” Christian said. “They’re not going to shoot us, so what can they do?”
Asked whether he would use violence to resist arrest, Christian said he would, but would not respond to questions about whether he will be armed. Camp organizers have stressed that any resistance to arrest should be nonviolent.
“There will be a variety of tactics used,” said organizer Adriane DeJerk, 26. “No social movement has ever been successful while being completely peaceful.”
The Portland encampment went up 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.
City 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, but declined to inform police about the march route. That forced 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 minor injuries.
A protester is suspected in damage to two Gresham, Ore., police vehicles. The city’s mayor, Shane Bemis, delivered a $1,546.52 bill for the damage to the encampment on Thursday morning.
Adams said his order “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.