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Portland City Hall Occupy camp dispersed

Jul 23, 2013


By NIGEL DUARA
Of the Associated Press

PORTLAND — The last visible remnants of the 2011 Occupy Portland movement held court in front of City Hall for nearly two years. A community of sign-holding, slogan-chanting, pot-banging protesters brought noise and attention to the city's acute homeless problem.

The encampment mostly comprised of homeless people began after police ordered the removal of tents and other structures from the 300-person Occupy Portland encampment in late 2011.

But, much like the Occupy protest that preceded it, the message split — homelessness was joined by causes including opposition to water fluoridation and the closure of a local reservoir.

By early this summer, the area was the site of a well-entrenched protest but also a meeting point for the area's homeless population, whose occasional catcalls and violence drew complaints from residents and business owners who visited City Hall.

On Tuesday, police arrived to enforce the city-ordered dispersal of the 30-person encampment, five days after city workers hung eviction notices from nearby trees.

The City Hall protest sought to focus attention on Portland's homeless population, who say the city feeds them but doesn't provide enough places to stay. Many in the encampment said they still identified with the Occupy movement that swept the country in late 2011 as outrage over perceived Wall Street greed and corporate personhood bubbled over into the streets. The loose structure of those initial protests had fractured further over time in Portland.

Mayor Charlie Hales said the encampment deterred people from entering City Hall and intimidated those working inside.

Portland police spokesman Pete Simpson said the protesters dispersed without violence or resistance, although some said they plan to return.

“Our officers know that everything they do is being recorded by the media and by the crowd,” Simpson said. Police brought their own recording equipment to document the dispersal.

“We know we're not the issue,” Simpson said. “The issue is bigger than us.”

The protesters left, some crossing the street to yell as workers hosed down the sidewalk. Shouts of “This is a police state!” echoed near a police press conference. Some protesters said the police turnout was an overreaction.

“This morning, an overwhelming amount of government funds went into picking up trash on the sidewalk,” said Sawyer Sherman, 19, a protester at the site for the last four months.

Sherman said the protest will continue in some form, and despite the police presence on Tuesday, it's unclear what effect the dispersal will have.

Many protesters remained in the area and some held signs pledging to return. The city converted the block surrounding City Hall into a high-traffic pedestrian area, but that designation only prevents sleeping on the sidewalk from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Inmate crews supervised by the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office packed the remains of the encampment across the street from the former protest. Toothbrushes, torn pieces of fabric and clothing were stuffed into plastic bags and removed.

Relatively lenient city policies and mild weather have long attracted the homeless to Portland, particularly in the summer. The Occupy Portland camp endured many of the same issues as the City Hall encampment: A group of protesters was soon joined by homeless people, who brought attention and sometimes problems to the area.

Hales said he has had more than 100 police calls to the block around City Hall in the last six months. He said he's heard reports of open drug use and public sex.

Trevor Matney, 33, handcuffed himself to a tree next to the protest for five days, but dispersed with the rest of the crowd on Tuesday morning. Matney acknowledges that some protesters may have brought unwanted attention to the encampment by heckling passersby.

“That's part of any protest,” Matney said. “It's our First Amendment right to say whatever we feel is the truth.”

He said he expects the protest and encampment to resume on Tuesday night.

“We're still planning on being here,” Matney said. “The goal here is awareness.”

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Reach reporter Nigel Duara on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nigelduara

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