Seattle police arrest protesters in offshoot of Occupy Wall Street

Thursday, October 6, 2011

By Christine Clarridge and Jennifer Sullivan | McClatchy-Tribune News Service

SEATTLE — Seattle police swept through Westlake Park on Wednesday, making 25 arrests as they clashed with protesters and hauled away tents set up by the Occupy Seattle movement.

The hours-long showdown-in one of downtown’s most popular gathering spots-began just after lunchtime, as some demonstrators refused a city order to remove the tents.

The Occupy Seattle protest, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York City and elsewhere, had gone on since late last month at the downtown federal building and Westlake without much notice. But as the Westlake crowd grew and tents multiplied over the weekend, city officials decided this week to enforce rules against camping in parks.

On Wednesday afternoon, police and park rangers moved in.

Christopher Williams, acting parks superintendent, said demonstrators could stay in the park, but only during park hours of 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. He also said tents are not allowed.

“The right to protest in Seattle is a cherished one and one we uphold,” Mayor Mike McGinn said earlier in the day, noting that he sympathized with the cause many protesters sought to highlight: the expanding gulf between rich and poor. But, McGinn added, “by putting up tents in Westlake Park, it means you are excluding other users.”

Of the 25 people arrested, police said 13 were booked into King County Jail. Twelve others were released, police said, with requests for charges of obstructing a public officer sent to the City Attorney’s Office.

Late Wednesday, in a soft, cold rain, more than 100 protesters remained at the site, monitored by a single, parked patrol car. Protesters were defiant, but peaceful.

“I think it’s completely illegal to arrest people,” said Emma Kaplan, 26. “All charges need to be dropped.”

Moments earlier, Kaplan led a small group of people who repeated her comments, as is common at Occupy sites so that others can hear what’s being said.

“Let’s not give up, because the whole word is watching,” they said. “Enough is enough. Right is on our side. Occupy Seattle.”

The group also chanted: “We call on people to come down to Westlake and set up tents. It’ll be the people’s park and not the park of this empire.”

Kaplan said she belonged to The World Can’t Wait organization, which has been protesting the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. She applied for a permit so her group could hold an anti-war protest on Friday at the Park. She said she had no problem with the tents set up by other protesters.

There were no tents late Wednesday; only a small fruit-and-food stand offering free snacks. Protesters were told by police that blankets and sleeping bags would not be allowed and that no one would be permitted “to lounge.”

“That is monstrous,” Kaplan said.

Seattle Parks and Recreation staff came to the park early Wednesday, and as dozens of police stood by, asked protesters to take down their tents.

By 2 p.m., before police converged on the crowd of maybe 200, about 25 tents had been taken down.

An additional 10 tents remained, and police and parks employees moved from tent to tent. In some cases, demonstrators resisted the efforts of police and parks workers to take the tents away-leading to several confrontations.

Twice, groups of protesters linked arms, determined to prevent officers from removing the tents and the protesters inside.

In one instance, protesters were on the ground and held down by police as other officers removed people from the tent and took them away in handcuffs.

Some of those protecting the tents screamed as if they were being beaten, while others in the crowd yelled about police brutality.

Occupy Wall Street protests started last month with a few dozen demonstrators trying to pitch tents in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Around the country and in Seattle, crowds have been drawn to a public, if disorganized, show against corporate greed.

Dee Powers, an artist living in Pioneer Square, has been part of the Westlake protest for several days.

“I’m totally for it,” she said Wednesday. “I’m out here to support the people screaming for change.”

Powers, though, goes home at night to sleep. “I don’t do cold and wet that well,” she said.

According to the Seattle protest website, “The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99 percent that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1 percent.”

But demonstrators who started the day talking about how they were in that “99 percent” of the population done wrong by Wall Street eventually turned their focus to the police. Some told officers to take off their badges and join them, while others chanted, “Cops, pigs and murderers.”

More than 40 officers were at the scene late Wednesday afternoon.

Once the last tent was wrenched from the hands of protesters, police retreated.

One of those resisting police was Jackson Morgan, 19, from San Francisco.

“I feel great,” he said, as some in the crowd hugged and congratulated him.

Protesters vowed to hold tight, saying they would remain at Westlake Park-with tents or without them.

Dewey Potter, spokeswoman for Seattle parks, said Wednesday that the consensus among city leaders, including McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz, was that any action against the protesters should be “as smooth and peaceful as we can make it.”

The Occupy Seattle group arrived at Westlake Park on Saturday, protesting corporate control of government. In the days since, as in other cities, the causes have diversified: Protesters’ chants Wednesday urged Palestinian rights, immigration reform and open borders.

Whatever the cause, frustration was the common thread.

Daniel Dorn, 18, of Bellevue, said he had spent six days at the park, staying overnight.

“I’ve been really upset,” said Dorn. “In America we’re one of the wealthiest countries and we don’t have free health care.”

Dorn carried a fundraising box, collecting cash to buy food and other items for protesters. He said he raised $100 Tuesday.

Brian Carey, 54, of Normandy Park, took the morning off work to protest.

“I’m here to help the middle class stay middle class,” he said, sporting a tie as he stood on the side of the street. “That’s the economic engine of our country, a strong middle class.”

Christina Clarridge and Jennifer Sullivan write for The Seattle Times.

©2011 The Seattle Times

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