Police begin arresting Occupy St. Louis protesters
Saturday, November 12, 2011
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Police arrested about two dozen people at an Occupy St. Louis encampment early Saturday, then began taking down the tents where the protesters have lived over the past several weeks.
One young man suffered a seizure during the arrests but was conscious and alert by the time an ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital. The cause of the seizure wasn't immediately known.
The arrests began shortly after midnight, roughly 20 minutes after U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson declined a request by protesters for a temporary injunction that would have allowed camping at Kiener Plaza continue at least through the weekend. However, Jackson did schedule a hearing on Tuesday to consider whether the protesters should be allowed to relocate in the park.
The demonstrators who were arrested stood passively on park ground — violating the city's 10 p.m. curfew — as officers used plastic ties to handcuff them and lead them to eight paddywagons. There was no violence and no resistance.
At least 100 other protesters who chose not to be arrested stood on a sidewalk and chanted things at police like "Shame on you!," ''Who do you serve?" and "Our passion for freedom is stronger than your prison."
Within minutes of the arrests, protest organizers were already taking donations for bail money. Also within minutes, a large truck arrived to hold the tents police and park workers were removing. The tents were to be tagged and taken to a city building, where their owners could claim them.
At its peak, the encampment had 50 tents but by Saturday morning it numbered a little more than a dozen as some took heed and vacated.
Bradley Veltre, a 49-year-old union worker, was among those arrested. He said he was willing to be arrested to make his point about the decline of the middle class due to corporate greed.
"I've been waiting for our time to come, and this is it," Veltre said. "If I have to be arrested, I don't care."
St. Louis officials had told protesters to move out of the park by 3 p.m. Friday. But police didn't move in until Jackson's ruling, waiting en masse several blocks away before converging on Kiener Plaza.
When they arrived, protesters chanted loudly — a few obscenely — but there was never a threat of violence. In the moments before police arrived, a protester on a bullhorn advised those who were willing to be arrested to stay on the park ground and those who did not want to be arrested to go to a nearby sidewalk.
The two dozen demonstrators who stayed in the park locked arms. Some made a peace sign. One waved a large flag. As police approached, most held out their hands to be cuffed.
Hundreds of demonstrators who have joined nationwide Occupy protests against what they call corporate greed and economic inequality have been arrested for refusing to leave various public properties, often without incident. There have been some more serious 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.
Before Saturday, only 10 arrests had been reported in St. Louis, all for curfew violations one night early in the encampment that sprung up early last month. Police have since allowed the protesters to remain camped despite their apparent violation of the city laws.
City leaders held a cordial meeting Tuesday with about four dozen protesters, during which the two sides sharing ideas about possible alternatives to Kiener Plaza and agreed they wanted to avoid any violent confrontations.
City officials 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. The city also offered use of another downtown park, albeit one not quite so visible, though overnight camping would be prohibited there, too.