Tucson police eject "Occupy" protesters
Tucson Police Officers march into Armory Park.
Reporter: Kevin Keen
Photographer: Andrew Bautista
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - For the first time in two and a half weeks, Tucson's Armory Park is now clear of "Occupy Tucson" protestors. Thursday night police cleared the park, making way for previously scheduled upcoming events.
Shortly after 10:30 p.m. Thursday, officers entered the downtown park. But instead of issuing citations to protesters who stayed after the park's curfew, as they have for 19 nights, TPD police chief Roberto Villaseñor told them to leave or face arrest.
A demonstrator told the chief the group had an agreement with the event that has a permit for the park this weekend, the Procession of the Little Angels.
“They were perfectly fine with us being here, understood that we want to remove ourselves so that El Tour can do what they need to do,” the protester told Chief Villaseñor. The chief replied: “We appreciate the fact that you guys were trying to work on that, but this is city property not really your property to negotiate those issues with. The city needs to come in and clean this up and prepare for the permit holders.”
Chief Villaseñor gave them a flexible deadline of an hour to vacate the park and a plaza near the downtown library.
Dozens of officers then surrounded the block, closing nearby streets. The protesters complied peacefully and started collapsing their tents.
“The police have ordered the protesters out and as they pack up their tents, the police have set up flood lights, illuminating every square inch so that people can see what they're doing. Then later on, the police will be able to tell if someone is still here,” reporter Kevin Keen said at the scene.
“A lot of people have been waiting for them to make some move other than repeatedly giving us citations,” Occupy organizer Jon McLane said. “This is certainly some move. I don't agree with this tactic but I commend their candor and the way that they handle it.”
“Do you disagree with any part of what's happening tonight?” Kevin Keen reporter asked McLane. “I've been pleased with the relationship we've had with the police officers so far,” he replied. “This isn't a break of that character whatsoever.”
Other protesters were visibly upset about the situation and the short notice. One person turned the U.S. flag on a pole upside down at half-staff.
“I think it’s terrible,” said protester Kathleen Williamson, when asked about the general situtation. “I think the city is violating their First Amendment rights to peaceful assemble and rights to political expression.”
“You protest what's happening, but people are still cooperating, still leaving. Why?” Keen asked. “They don't want to be physically arrested,” she said. “They have their belongings here and the tents and so forth. So, if they're physically arrested, then their tents are going to be confiscated.”
The protesters spoke their minds, chanting Occupy slogans, but in less than two and half hours, their 70 or so tents were down. The park was empty at one in the morning.
Police also cleared Jacome Plaza at the Downtown Main Library, where other protesters had set up camp.
After leaving those parks, protesters headed for a new location, Viente de Agosto park. The city issued a press release saying that Viente de Agosto can "serve as a temporary alternative location." But the press release made it clear that protestors who plan to camp out overnight in violation of the park curfew face the same citations there as they did in Armory Park.
Friday morning, "Occupy" spokesperson Alex Maldonado sent out an email about the movement's relocation. "Currently, there are approximately 40 tents at the new base camp with approximately 60 occupiers holding their ground after what can only be termed as a successful and well organized bug-out from Armory Park," Maldonado wrote. "Occupy Tucson has found its second wind."
The email offered no direct criticism of the police action.