Well, it looks like the cities had had enough of the Occupy Movement and they are starting to clear out the parks all over the US. In Portland, we had an action-packed weekend and I think the Portland Police (PoPo henceforth) did quite well to minimize conflicts, injuries, and property damages. Occupy Portland took the form of a massive campsite in two adjacent downtown parks. Here is what went down last week along with the 3 lessons we can learn from the Occupy Portland camp-clearing process.
Thursday – Mayor Sam Adam gave a notice to the Protesters to clear out by midnight on Saturday.
These were some of his reasons:
– Small business owners reported a spike in shoplifting and littering in the area. Generally, there was also more violence around the area.
– 2 cases of OD in the camp. I guess it was a chance of the lifetime to get high right in front of city hall….
– Homeless people congregated in the area and it was becoming a homeless camp.
– The park was getting damaged.
– There were only a few toilets for 500+ people.
Fast forward to Saturday.
I walked by Saturday afternoon and the PoPo were in riot gear and I could see they were tense, but everybody was civil. I never felt threatened while walking through the area, but I hadn’t walked by late at night either.
The protesters called, tweeted, and posted on Facebook for reinforcements and thousands of supporters turned up on Saturday night.
Gas masks were sold out across the city…
At this point, things looked like they could have escalated.
Here are the 3 things the Portland Police did right
1. Did not push the issue at midnight and bide their time
I was in bed by the time the deadline came. Sorry, I didn’t make it, but it was a cold and stormy night. 🙂
Many of the protesters and homeless took the warning seriously and left the camp Saturday evening. The number of tents was reduced, but supporters kept pouring in throughout the night. I’m sure a large percentage of the crowd came down just to see what’s going on.
From what I can find, the police tried to move in around midnight, but they backed off because there were too many people. The protestors put up barricades to prepare for the big dance at midnight and the situation could have gotten out of hand quickly. See picture of barricades at flickr (not common creative so I can’t share here.) They took down the barricade in the morning because they thought the police had given up.
2. Portland Police took the initiative
By morning the Occupy Protesters and supporters were tired and thought they kept the park since the deadline had passed. Many supporters declared victory and went home to sleep. Others went off to get breakfast, “relax, and regroup.” At 9am (or noon?), the PoPo saw a window of opportunity and moved in. They quickly pushed everyone out from one park and the park department started to set up a chain link fence. The protestors were now in full retreat, but stood their ground in one corner of the second park. The police moved in after a warning and arrested anyone who didn’t leave. They arrested over 50 people in this park.
There were some scuffles, but most of the protesters advocated peaceful protest and did not fight the Police. The Occupy Movement organizers also got a lot of credit because they went through the tents the day before and removed makeshift weapons and dissuaded people to not attack the police.
3. Minimal Brutality
The PoPo did not use tear gas, rubber bullets, or other riot control tools. Only a few people got hurt and most of the action involved shoving and not full on skull cracking. I think if they pushed the issue at midnight, it could have been a lot worse. The large crowd probably would have rioted and I’m sure the property damage would have been much larger. Less violence is good for both the Police and the protesters.
All in all, I’m glad the camp is closed down. I’m as sympathetic to the Occupy Movement as anyone and I had a great time talking to some of the Occupy Portland protesters. I agree with many of their grievances – see my Economic Inequality is bad for your health post. The Occupy Movement is just too disorganized though. They should pick a cause or two and work within the system to fix the problems. The camp also got out of control and turned into a big homeless camp. The holiday season is coming and suburbanites want to shop in peace.
The protesters could take some lessons from the PoPo here. Learn to bide your time and then seize an opportunity when it presents itself. I’m sure many protesters graduated from college and couldn’t find a job, but did they really do all they can? They could have majored in profession like Computer Science which has a high demand. They could temporarily move to a low unemployment location like Williston, ND for a few years while the economy recovers. There are many things one can do instead of camping out for months on end. It was good to bring some attention to the problems, but it’s time to move on and be more productive.
What about your city? Did they clear out the Occupy Movement camp yet?