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Eviction of Occupy Salt Lake City – Update

The Occupy SLC folks and the homeless were cleared out of Pioneer Park last night by Salt Lake City police.  The eviction began shortly before 6pm; it was raining lightly, with some snowflakes mixed in.  There was already some snow on the ground from earlier in the day.  When I arrived around five, police had not yet closed off the 4-lane street that runs along the south side of the park; by five-thirty, a sizable contingent of police vehicles had arrived, including two large paddywagons and a mobile command center RV-type vehicle.  In all, police vehicles took up two lanes of the street along the entire block, and further automobile traffic was prevented from entering the street from the east.  The two lanes closest to the park were left open so that people parked along the curb next to the park could leave if they chose, exiting to the west. 

If I could describe the mood of both occupiers and police, the best word I could use would be ‘calm.”  Sure, there were the usual chants of “We are the 99%, and you are the 99%” and even “This is what a police state looks like” when police started removing a few tents that were still there, but the prevailing atmosphere was one of calm and restraint.  The people had obviously already discussed beforehand how they were going to behave, and it was in a peaceful and organized manner.   To reinforce this, there were shouts of “This is a non-violent protest” by various occupiers several times during the evening as a reminder.   There wasn’t any swearing at police, except much later when one homeless person yelled “F*#k You” after final orders were given that everyone had to move out of the park and onto the sidewalk, and move their stuff to the sidewalk if they didn’t want it hauled away.

About a third of the tents were already taken down by occupiers before the police even arrived.  The official park curfew is 5pm, and Chief Burbank started announcing over the bullhorn shortly thereafter that the park was  now closed and that people who didn’t want to be arrested should start packing their stuff and begin leaving.  However, another 45 minutes went by before the police actually started getting people out of their tents.

One person approached the chief and asked “You’re not going to make all these people leave, where are they going to go?”  He said that arrangements had been made with local shelters to accept anyone who wished to stay overnight.  Citing a statement police made on TV the day before about closing the park for safety reasons, the person persisted “You’re not trying to say what you’re doing is making the park safer; it’s not like you never encounter other deaths among the homeless this time of year, how is closing the park making anyone safer?”  The chief’s multiple  response was that conditions inside some of the tents were dangerous, with human waste, drugs, weapons . . . . there have been fights in the park, people hit with boards . . . . drug sales occurring . . . . etc.  “Yes, but why don’t you just arrest the perpetrators on an individual basis instead of making the law-abiding people leave too?”  This query was met with silence – it seemed obvious that the intent was to vacate everyone.  This apparently also had the mayor’s blessing, because I was told later that some of the Occupy spokespeople had met with the mayor on Friday, and were given some bad news at that time.

Several TV newspeople & cameramen were on site and had been there since five or a little before.  Fox Chammel 13 was interviewing occupiers and filming.  A woman with Channel 4 ABC was also doing some interviews, but after a while she stopped and was just wandering around with cameraman in tow.  She happened to pass by me a little after six talking into her bluetooth, mentioning that it was kind of boring right now, no arrests were happening.  I said “Is that all you’re really here for, the arrests?” as she was walking by; either she didn’t hear me or just ignored me, because she kept walking with no acknowledgment.  Goddam vultures.

Turns out she didn’t have to wait long, becuse they started arresting people around six-thirty.  I read in this morning’s paper that in all 18 were arrested.  I was keeping a rough count, and there seemed to be a dozen or so, but they were taking people from different sides of the park, so I didn’t see them all.  All the tents were down before seven o’clock; that is, all  except for the kitchen which was allowed to remain, although police made them take the food storage off site.  At seven o’clock or shortly thereafter three of the organizers announced they were going to take a principled action against this violation of freedom of assembly and police-state eviction by setting up a tent and getting arrested.  They took one of the tents back into the park.  Within a couple minutes they were arrested as they were setting it up, zip-tied, escorted past the thirty or more cops on the street, and into the waiting paddywagon.  In all there were 70 to 80 cops on site, about half of them in the park getting people out; the remaining half were lined up along the street the whole time, presumably ready to take action if there was any physical resistance, which there wasn’t.  Only one of them was carrying a rifle, they didn’t appear to be in riot gear (I only saw one with a face shield), and I didn’t see any evidence of them carrying tear gas cannisters or other crowd-assault equipment.

Throughout this entire process the occupiers maintained discipline; there were constant mic checks to announce that a local advolcate for the homeless, John Netto, had arranged to have people’s gear stored in a local warehouse, announcements for people to fill out forms itemizing their gear so that it would be easier to claim later.  John had also arranged transportation, and had two stretch limos and two tour buses waiting in the street to take people to other locations and transport their gear to the warehouse.

At seven-thirty the crowd had started to thin a little, and the police chief announced on his bullhorn that the sidewalk itslef was being closed and that people could go across the street to the west to a “Free Speech Zone.”  this was met by several yells of “The WHOLE COUNTRY”s a Free Speech Zone”, and nobody moved.   But the police never did make any effort whatsoever to move anyone across the street, and no futher orders or announcements were made; the police seemed content to just stand around and observe.

During another mic check, an organizer announced that the occupation would continue, that some were going over to Occupy Gallivan Center (about six blocks away), which had not been closed down although a few were camping ‘illegally’ there.  It was announced that the group would re-convene at Gallivan Center at noon on Sunday, and at some point march to the City-County office builiding, the location of the mayor’s office and other city offices.  He also announced that the group was coming back to Pioneer Park on Sunday for a GA at 4pm to discuss what to do next.. 

I finally had to leave around eight-fifteen.  By that time there were very few people left, a lot of the Occupy SLC people had left, and there were a few spectators still around, and the police, of course.  The encampment debris was still being cleared by a couple of front-end loaders and dump trucks.

Occupy SLC will continue in some form or other, just as it has in other cities where the encampments have been removed.  We just don’t know where as yet.  But the Occupy movement is spreading, even in redder-than-red state Utah.  Already there’s an Occupy Ogden about 45 miles to the north, and an Occupy Park City 40 miles east in the ski resort town of Park City.  The Occupy Movement will live on, it is unstoppable as long as the spirit and the will of good people perseveres!  I am proud of and grateful to all of them.

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