Occupy St. Louis protesters told to end encampment

By JIM SALTER

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS (AP) — About 100 Occupy St. Louis protesters who have camped in a downtown park for more than a month have been given a Friday deadline to move out, but many said they have no plans to leave.

City employees told the protesters they have until 3 p.m. Friday to remove 52 tents from Kiener Plaza, dubbed “Freedom Square” by the protesters, and that police also plan to start enforcing the park’s regular 10 p.m. curfew. Occupy St. Louis responded with a news release headlined, “Hey Hey, Ho, Ho: The Occupiers Will Not Go!”

“I plan to be here at 10 p.m.,” Sasha Patino, one of the facilitators for Occupy St. Louis, said early Friday. “I do not expect excessive force, and we will not instigate anything ourselves.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if police would immediately move to disperse the camp at 3 p.m. or how officers intended to handle protesters who refuse to leave. Messages left with police and city officials were not immediately returned early Friday.

Demonstrators who have joined nationwide Occupy protests against what they corporate greed and economic inequality have at times had conflicts with police — most notably in Oakland, Calif., where two Iraq War veterans were hurt in separate clashes with officers — but there have been no reports of violence in St. Louis.

Only 10 arrests have been reported, all for curfew violations one night early in the encampment. Police have since allowed the protesters to remain camped despite their apparent violation of two city laws: the 10 p.m. park curfew and a prohibition of structures such as tents in parks.

Mayor Francis Slay wrote last week in his blog that the time has come for the St. Louis encampment to end, citing a rising number of complaints and the need to free up Kiener Plaza for other public use.

City leaders met Tuesday with about four dozen protesters, ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s, a mix made up largely of college students, homeless people, military veterans and retirees. The meeting was mostly cordial with the two sides sharing ideas about possible alternatives and agreeing they wanted to avoid any violent confrontations.

Still, Slay’s chief of staff, Jeff Rainford, told the group that while protests are welcomed, the encampment needed to end “sooner rather than later.”

City leaders offered some compromises such as 24-hour access to sidewalks for protests near the park. Mary Ellen Ponder, a special assistant to Slay, suggested development of a “speaker’s corner” that would be available constantly for anyone, including protesters. And the city offered use of another downtown park, albeit one not quite so visible, though overnight camping would be prohibited there, too.

“I do not consider those to be acceptable alternatives,” said Patino, a 41-year-old accounting and business management student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He said the protesters planned a Friday evening meeting to consider what to do.

But the Occupy St. Louis new release suggested they prefer to stay at Kiener Plaza.

“The medium is the message and our medium is occupation,” the release said.

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