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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Reading Some Tea Leaves on Occupy Portland; Also, Which News Outlet Called Mayor to Demand Camps Close?

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 1:41 AM

How sold is Mayor Sam Adams on immediately revoking his embrace of Occupy Portland's two campsites in Chapman and Lownsdale squares in defiance—or civil disobedience, as occupiers might say—of the city's parks curfew and camping ban?

Occupiers certainly aren't hedging. They're already bracing for an eviction notice at tomorrow's press conference with the mayor and Police Chief Mike Reese—and then some kind of confrontation. An emergency general assembly meeting on what to do has been called for noon.

But according to (admittedly rough, paraphrased) minutes (PDF) posted by occupiers who met last night with two top Adams staffers, it seems the mayor, at least as of 5 PM, was still actively wrestling over whether to order the parks emptied. That comes despite deepening concern over occupiers' ability to keep order and provide safety in a camp that's increasingly become a magnet for the mentally ill and chronically homeless.

Asked point blank if the mayor would start enforcing the curfew and camping ban again, spokeswoman Amy Ruiz said Adams' still had a somewhat open mind. Of course, that was before Adams dove back into meetings with (likely mayoral candidate) Reese.

Conversations are ongoing, meetings tonight...don't know what will come of that so need to wait for tomorrow and the press conference. Sam is considering various scenarios. Wants to know what OP suggests as the best way to move forward.

Does that mean the mayor might just give occupiers more time than expected to devise their own exit plan? Maybe. But with the shopping-conscious city council now in lockstep on closing down the camps, it's clear that any reprieve would have to be extremely short-lived.

Indeed, much of the talk at the meeting involved finding a suitable 24-hour building for Occupy to use for organizing (provided it didn't turn into a shelter). The mayor's office would help Occupy relocate, Jennifer Yocum, Adams' deputy chief of staff told the occupiers—but not without more info and not if another major incident springs up.

The weirdest part of the notes, however, was a statement from Ruiz that an unidentified news outlet actually called the mayor's office and demanded the camps be shut down because the hecklers have been getting rougher and rougher with reporters. (In fact, according to occupiers I spoke with yesterday, one reporters was harassed badly enough she filed a police report.)

Update 10:45 AM:
Ruiz tells me it's not exactly that a news outlet asked to be shut down, it was more that an outlet took the extraordinary step of calling the mayor's office to actually complain about a story they're covering. Was it KOIN? They did wind up hiring security for their reporters...

That's one twist that's been weighing on Adams' office. But the big issues are still a reported near-fatal overdose and the Molotov cocktail arrest reported yesterday—"things that you don't have control over," the notes quote Yocum as saying. In notes (PDF) from a meeting Tuesday night, the two sides, which also included a visit from Central Precinct Commander Bob Day, also discussed unsubstantiated reports on guns and prostitution in the camp.

The notes from Wednesday do confirm what's been reported—partially—about police drawing up plans to extract occupiers from the parks. Ruiz told liaisons what I'd heard, that "many different contingency plans have been developed ahead of time—that is a part of their job and standard operating procedure—not new news." The O has since updated an earlier story to call the plans "immediate" and say that a Central Precinct sergeant was in charge of them.

Also interestingly, the notes (especially from Tuesday's meeting) offer a window into how the mayor's office's reaction to occupiers' accusations that the city has poorly handled its work with the homelessness. They kind of don't care very much for that insinuation, it turns out—especially after beefing up and/or protecting spending on the Housing Bureau, even in leaner budget years.

First Yocum defended the city's approach, both in general and in Occupy Portland:

i don't want these issues to be confused. i hear this from the paper "we're putting out these issues that people would ignore"

i think that's uninformed. this city knows the issue of homelessness, there are resources for people in the camp. we're making sure we're opening even more winter shelters. I don't know how to convey that to the larger group.

Then she asked the occupiers this: "if agencies are telling us and you that this is making your job harder, how do you respond?"

When she didn't much like their answers—about working together and how people shouldn't be so hard on the campsite's unpaid volunteers—it seems she fired back.

These people who have spent decades solving this problem, their expert opinion is that they cannot achieve goals while camp exists. Encampments like this do not lead pathways to success. I'm trying to get a level of understanding from your folks. We're hearing that they can't do their job in camp.

Here's the occupiers' summary of last night's notes:

Any new information or a change in position will be communicated at the press conference. City feels that they have been trying to work with us without success or progress, camp is not safe and our presence undermines the ability for the city and social service agencies to do their jobs advocating for homeless and vulnerable youth populations. City needs OP to articulate how they can support the advancement of the greater goals of the Occupy Movement and the dismantling of the current OP camp. It was expressed by the City that the current camp does appear to be an Occupy camp but has turned into something different—not healthy—and more violent incidences will undermine our movement. If there are violent/ life threatening incidents then City support and ability/desire to advocate for the Occupy Movement and the OP camp will disappear. City expressed that we need to move fast because time is up... many opportunities to deal with issues already given.

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