Deaths in Occupy camps raise calls for dispersal
OAKLAND, Calif. — Leaders across the country felt increasing pressure Friday to shut down Occupy encampments after two men died in shootings and another was found dead from a suspected combination of drugs and carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a propane heater inside a tent.
Citing a strain on crime-fighting resources, police first pleaded with and then ordered Occupy Oakland protesters to leave their encampment at the City Hall plaza where a man was shot and killed late Thursday.
The Oakland Police Officers Association, which represents rank-and-file police, issued an open letter saying the camp is pulling officers away from crime-plagued neighborhoods.
“With last night’s homicide, in broad daylight, in the middle of rush hour, Frank Ogawa Plaza is no longer safe,” it said. “Please leave peacefully, with your heads held high, so we can get police officers back to work fighting crime in Oakland neighborhoods.”
Late in the afternoon, police officers acting at the direction of Mayor Jean Quan distributed fliers to protesters warning that the camp violates the law and must be disbanded immediately. The notices warned campers they would face arrest if tents and other materials were not removed, although the warnings did not say by when.
The city issued similar written warnings before officers raided the encampment with tear gas and bean bag projectiles before dawn Oct. 25, then arrested 85 people. A day later, Quan allowed protesters to reclaim the disbanded site and the camp has grown substantially since then.
City Council President Larry Reid said outside City Hall on Friday that the shooting was further proof the tents must come down. He was confronted by a protester who said he wouldn’t be in office much longer.
“You didn’t elect me,” Reid snapped back. “You probably ain’t even registered to vote!”
Reid said the encampment has been a major setback for the area while attracting sex offenders, mentally ill and homeless people, and anarchists.
“This is no longer about Occupy Wall Street,” he said. “This is about occupying Oakland and extracting whatever you can get out of Oakland by holding our city hostage.”
Also on Thursday, a 35-year-old military veteran apparently shot himself to death in a tent at a Burlington, Vt., Occupy encampment in City Hall Park.
On Friday, a man was found dead in an Occupy Salt Lake City tent from what police said was a combination of drug use and carbon monoxide.
A preliminary investigation into the Oakland shooting suggested it resulted from a fight between two groups of men at or near the encampment, police Chief Howard Jordan said.
Protesters said there was no connection between the shooting and the camp. Investigators do not know of any connection, Jordan said.
The coroner’s office said the victim’s name is not likely to be released before Monday.
In Vermont, police said a preliminary investigation showed the veteran fatally shot himself in the head. His name was being withheld because not all of his family has been notified.
The discovery of the man believed to be in his 40s at the Occupy Salt Lake City camp led police to order all protesters to leave the park where they have camped for weeks. The man has not been identified.
Group organizers said many of the roughly 150 protesters plan to go to jail rather than abandon the encampment. “We don’t even know if this is a tragedy or just natural,” protest organizer Jesse Fruhwirth said. “They’re scapegoating Occupy.”
PORTLAND — Portland police believe that some protesters inside the Occupy Portland encampments are building shields and makeshift weapons — including nails hammered into wood — in preparation for when authorities attempt to clear the parks this weekend, police said Friday.
Occupy Portland organizers have repeatedly said the movement is nonviolent and have appealed to demonstrators to resist peacefully when the camps close at midnight on Saturday. They planned public marches and a potluck dinner before the deadline and hoped the public would take part.
But police said as many as 150 anarchists may come to take part in a possible clash with officers. Some in the camp were trying to collect gas masks, they said.
“If there are anarchists, if there are weapons, if there is an intention to engage in violence and confrontation, that obviously raises our concerns,” Portland police Lt. Robert King said. “But I know we’ll be able work through that and manage that, because we want to protect everyone there, especially the peaceful protester.”
Mayor Sam Adams has ordered the camp shut down, citing unhealthy conditions and the encampment’s attraction of drug users and thieves.
Protest organizers responded angrily to the police warning on Friday, saying in a statement that the police are trying to “defame” the movement by attributing the actions of individuals to the movement as a whole.
“Anyone that is engaging in violent resistance is doing so in direct contradiction to the values outlined by the Portland General Assembly” — the movement’s democratic governing body — “and in doing so is by definition not representing Occupy Portland,” the statement said.
About 10 demonstrators from Seattle had volunteered to come to Portland on Saturday to “stand in peaceful solidarity,” the statement said, but organizers are not calling in a mass influx of out-of-state demonstrators or anarchists.
Some demonstrators tore down tents, cleaned up their areas and left the encampment Friday, revealing muddy patches of land for the first time in more than a month. Some were seen carting away books from the library and dumping articles into trash containers. Others vowed to stay unless taken away in handcuffs.
A handful of people dismantled an intricate kitchen, saying they’ll store donated equipment until the movement can regroup. They’re appealing to the public to cook at home and bring food to demonstrators.
“Food is not going to stop unless we’re forced to stop,” said Marla Baskin, a demonstrator who has helped to organize food service. Baskin said she hoped police could arrest nonviolent demonstrators without force, even if radical elements try to provoke a confrontation.
Tensions were high and briefly became frayed Friday afternoon, when city workers and police — including Chief Mike Reese — seized pieces of cement and plywood that had been propped up against a wooden structure erected by demonstrators. Police said Occupy Portland’s security crew — a volunteer group intended to keep the peace — warned them the rocks had been gathered to be used against officers.
A demonstrator, who declined to give her name, said the rocks and plywood were brought in to fortify the compound, not to be used as weapons.
Some demonstrators said they hope the camp is re-established elsewhere or splintered into several smaller camps to continue the movement, but protest spokesman Jordan LeDoux said in an email “nothing concrete has been decided.”
Demonstrators planned marches originating in various locations around Portland on Saturday, ending at the encampments around 5 p.m., followed by a potluck for the public to “celebrate freedom of speech, and support for those who will be arrested,” LeDoux said.
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 near the end of the march, police said. He received minor injuries.