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Bloomington’s Order to Occupiers to Vacate People’s Park Reeks of Political Opportunism

Occupy Bloomington in October 2011

Clarification: As Herald-Times notes here, people will still be allowed to be in People’s Park 24/7. What is being evicted are tents and all personal belongings in the Park right now. The occupation could continue. But, it is winter and when a city tells an Occupy camp they can no longer have shelter, they are in effect evicting not only the tents and property of occupiers but also the citizens who have been demonstrating too.

For nearly ninety days, Occupy Bloomington has been occupying People’s Park in Bloomington just blocks away from the Indiana University campus. They have been bringing the message of the 99% to a college town. But now their effort faces a significant setback as Mayor Mark Kruzan has occupiers evicted by noon today.

I have been following all news related to Occupy closely since September 17 and I visited Occupy Bloomington on my Midwest tour of occupations in late October. As far as I could tell, the city was politically more permissive toward Occupy Bloomington than most cities. To have lasted into 2012 like they have done, the city would have to be on some level respectful of their First Amendment rights to be in the park.

What did it then? Why is the mayor pushing through with the eviction?

On New Year’s Eve, according to AP, Kruzan cites an incident that took place where “three people were arrested and three police officers [were] hurt Sunday during scuffles at the park.” After the incident, Kruzan announced that he was “reconsidering whether to support allowing Occupy protesters” to stay in the park.

Occupy Bloomington disputes the city’s version of what happened on New Year’s Day. The occupation reports they were holding an “impromptu dance party” on the streets of Bloomington. They “roved” through downtown and “descended upon the Monroe County Jail where they danced in the New Year and spoke out against the prison industrial-complex.”

There apparently was also a banner drop off the top of the Hilton Garden Inn. The banner read “Break Your Chains.” The party moved on to “College and Third St., where the patrons from nearby bars empty into the streets.” At about 1 am, the party was about to disperse when “a small group of people were targeted by the Bloomington Police Department. Three individuals were tackled from behind and violently arrested. Force was used by officers despite compliant behavior.”

Video above shows the arrest of Joshua Johnson on New Year’s Eve in front of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on Kirkwood in Bloomington. (I found the video at The Bloomington Alternative, which has requested “copies of all visual and audial recordings made by police during the confrontation.”

The Alternative‘s Steven Higgs writes a detailed account of what transpired New Year’s Eve. If I am reading this account correctly, the police arrested individuals for public intoxication and some of those arrested and accused of injuring police had never had anything to do with Occupy Bloomington.

The crowd dropped back to about 50 as “last call” summoned the drinkers back inside, the account said. “Somewhere in the mix a bottle was broken on the sidewalk,” after which an officer jumped out of his car and tackled a protester, “punching him in the head as he lay helplessly below the much larger cop.”

Protester efforts to retrieve the man from custody were unsuccessful, which led to verbal confrontations between police and protesters, the account said. “More cops, including university cops, BPD and Monroe County, showed up. The march turned east on Kirkwood, as 15 cops or so followed on foot, ordering people out of the street.”

Two more protesters were arrested during the demo, which ended about 1:30 a.m. Prosecutors have charged one man with two felonies for the altercation with police. Charges against another were dropped. The third was charged with public intoxication.

Occupy Bloomington issued a statement on Jan. 3 saying the arrested men had no connection to the local group.

It appears the city of Bloomington is using one isolated incident as opportunity to rid the city of the Occupy camp. On December 11 of last year, AP reported city officials said “efforts to clean up behaviors and reduce complaints from businesses and residents” were working. Portable toilets were brought into the park to address sanitation issues. There had been complaints from local businesses that “homeless” people were using recycling bins for “human waste.”

As the city’s local newspaper the Herald-Times noted in December, People’s Park was born out of a culture of dissent that sprouted in the 1960s in Bloomington.

The day after Christmas 1968, during the height of the civil rights movement, Ku Klux Klan members Carlisle Briscoe Jr. and Jackie Kinser lobbed a kerosene-filled firebomb into an African-American-run store in downtown Bloomington. The Black Market, at the northeast of Kirkwood Avenue and Dunn Street, sold merchandise ranging from hair products to African art to jazz record albums.

All of the inventory was destroyed; the store, torn down. The site was owned by a political activist named Kathy Canada, a granddaughter of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. Indiana University students planted flowers and hung out at the blighted space, and in 1975 Canada donated the half-acre to the city for use as a park.

There was one condition: that it always be a park for citizens to enjoy. The property “shall be used in the public interest as a city park,” the transfer deed states.

The park has been a site for the homeless in Bloomington. As occupiers informed me during my visit, they had to be fair to the homeless when they moved into the park and ensure the homeless had space that they had before the occupation. They had to co-exist. And, in their co-existence, the homeless would be able to have shelter, food, etc, that they might not have if Occupy Bloomington wasn’t in People’s Park.

What will become of the homeless people after the eviction? They will likely experience what all homeless people have experienced in the aftermath of evictions by supposedly liberal mayors. They will be shuffled around and told they can go here for now, like under a highway, and then days later the city will tell them to go somewhere else where they will again find out they are unwanted. Or, they will feel empowered by their Occupy experience and perhaps show up at a community meeting on addressing homelessness in Bloomington. Either way they won’t ever feel as wanted in society as they did when Occupy Bloomington tried to incorporate them in their movement, when people living in the park treated them as humans and not marginalized wretches that society should pretend do not exist.

In conclusion, Higgs of the Alternative appropriately sums up what is happening today with the eviction:

If mainstream media reports on a New Year’s Eve demonstration in downtown Bloomington are given any credibility, the only crimes committed that evening were perpetrated by a couple protesters, and the city’s lightweight mayor may take away Occupy Bloomington’s tents for their indiscretions.

But mainstream media reports on social justice issues, especially on the police, have little to no credibility. By institutional design, they are propaganda for the economic elite, managed by law enforcement to shock the masses (and produce profits for media companies). The real news from Bloomington is that the “noise demo” that took place along its streets as the year turned was part of a coordinated, ongoing, global struggle against the corporate police state.

The mayor’s decision reeks of political opportunism. There are no other incidents outside of what happened on New Year’s Eve that would have pushed Kruzan to favor eviction. What happened on New Year’s Eve was no different from what typically happens in college towns like Bloomington. As Occupy Bloomington tweeted:

That means there must be people within Kruzan’s administration and perhaps in the Bloomington Police Department, who have chosen to exploit the incident to once and for all get rid of occupiers. That means city officials who wanted Occupy Bloomington to do something to justify cracking down on the encampment are seizing upon that something, even though it looks like it had very little to do with Occupy Bloomington and had more to do with people in town being drunk after celebrating the New Year.

For the latest on Occupy Bloomington and the wider Occupy movement, visit Firedoglake’s live blog.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."