I was out there, too, showing up a little before 11 and staying until well-after the cops cleared the park's sidewalks (no one messed with the still-tender, still-fenced-off replanted grass). And it was a strange affair. (And the Oregonian story, relying on a morning report from a police spokesman, got a few details wrong, mostly in timing.)
The occupation was impromptu, led by one occupier, Remi, who put the call out on social media for reinforcements in hopes of making a stand on First Amendment issues. He brought a sign, his molecular biology textbook, and a backpack. The idea was interesting: Occupy and break park curfew hours without camping—a protest, not a party, etc. Whether and how to reoccupy isn't yet a clearcut issue for Occupy.
The problem with that? While Occupy's livestream showed up, along with Occupy Portland folk hero Justin James Bridges, still in a wheelchair, many of those who plopped down on the benches weren't of the mind that the two are very separate things. Beer was drunk, pot was smoked, and words were shouted.
It was an obviously combustible mixture, and it all got worse when the cops came—just two officers at first—at 11:15, to spread the word to what ended up a crowd of about 40 people that the park would close as posted: at 12:01 AM. That set things on edge a little bit: The officers were told to "fuck off" by some, and found themselves in a legal argument with others, before they headed back to Central Precinct.
True to form, the police waited until about 12:30 to come back around, with the lieutenant on duty—employing a mic check—giving everyone until 12:40 to leave the park or face arrest, under direct orders of Mayor Sam Adams. In a change, the lieutenant told the group that anyone arrested would be sent to jail, not cited and released, and that he'd already called the jail and made arrangements.
Fifteen or sixteen other officers had fanned out behind him at this point, with Tasers but no riot gear, and marched up into the middle of Chapman Square. The occupiers who stuck around hurled predictable and liquor-fueled epithets about fascism and farm animals and shouted over the police repeatedly. But no one wanted to be arrested, yet, at least, and allowed the cops to herd them on to the corner of Fourth and Madison just outside the park.
A deputy city attorney showed up. And a weird standoff ensued, lasting until a bit after 1 AM, when the cops left to go take care of other crime as they put it. It was pretty ugly at times. You could see the cops jaws straining as they took substantial heaps of drunken abuse that distracted from whatever constitutional gripes might have been lodged. And I know that some of those who were doing the shouting have been arrested before at protests and feel targeted and don't trust the police.
Remi, the organizer, wasn't arrested, after talking to the cops and realizing he'd miss an exam on Monday if he was stuck in jail for the rest of the weekend. Later, according to the O, a 15-year-old was arrested after sticking around inside Chapman. That happened not at 1 AM, as the O reported, but well after 2 AM. Because there had been no arrests yet when I left, just after 2. Although stragglers who decided not to continue protesting at city hall, which has no curfew, had climbed the Elk Statue on Main Street and were dashing through Chapman's sidewalks defiantly.
Incidentally, because I don't want anyone to think otherwise, the 15-year-old wasn't getting ripped up in the hours before the cops came (certainly not that I could see)—nor was he charged with anything like it. But he was among those shouting loudest at the cops before they cleared the park and left. He said earlier in the night that he'd been hit in the face by an officer during a protest on January 25. The O says he was released to his mother. I haven't anything about how the boy was treated while in custody.
The whole thing left a sour taste in some mouths. Remi, a semi-regular at city council meetings who eventually engaged Deputy City Attorney David Woboril in a spirited legal debate, wasn't all that happy that his protest turned into a forum more for intoxication (not that there's anything wrong with that) and less about the constitutional case about freedom of speech he'd like to press. And likely keep pressing.
The action, because it was impromptu, didn't draw a lot of obvious Occupy support. The group's media team wasn't there. And, in a familiar fault line at Occupy protests, some observers following on Twitter and watching the Livestream also weren't happy with the shouting and the name-calling. Worse, conservative provocateurs were on hand, filming it all, providing thick, bloody cuts of red meat for the usual roundup of radio hosts and blogs come Monday morning.
One intriguing piece of fallout could be the shift in how the law decides to handle occupiers as spring heats up: Longer jail stays and no more "catch and release" arrests. How to treat Occupy arrestees in court is already the subject of an intense judicial debate. Occupy is planning two big events in the next couple of weeks—a Bradley Manning surprise party on Tuesday, April 24, and then a big ol' May Day general strike on Tuesday, May 1, and we could see another crowd of arrestees flooding the courthouse, complicating that debate even further.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!