Update, 4 p.m.: Public Works announced it is "re-evaluating" its plan to evict Occupy Denver.
For the moment, Denver Public Works is backing away from its plan to remove structures from Occupy Denver's encampment at Civic Center Park. After receiving a warning notice to remove the forts or face official interference, protesters spent most of last night adding to and fortifying the group's structures.
Although the movement was warned they would be visited between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. today, the threat is instead being "reevaluated" after protesters met briefly with Police Chief Robert White this afternoon.
"Public Works had planned to return today between 10a.m. and 2p.m. to ensure compliance with Denver ordinances," Christine Downs, marketing and communications coordinator for Public Works, said in a statement released this afternoon. "The City is now re-evaluating the situation in light of certain individuals' unwillingness to cooperate and comply with City ordinance. The priority for the City of Denver is the safety of all involved, including the protesters and visitors to Civic Center Park, which is why we decided to reassess the situation instead of proceeding as planned."
Beginning at the time protesters were warned to start expecting Public Works representatives, approximately 50 occupiers gathered at the park to defend their forts. The effort, however, is so far unnecessary, as the only city officials who visited the area came from the Denver Police Department. Lieutenant Matt Murray and Police Chief Robert White stopped by the occupation in the early afternoon to repeat the need to remove the encumbrances from the sidewalk, but they left without providing a definite deadline for the action.
Original post: Sometimes Occupy Denver gets what it asks for. Although the group still faces possible action by city officials after receiving a warning notice about encumbrances yesterday afternoon, the local chapter earned a personal visit this afternoon from new Chief of Police Robert White. The encumbrances still have to come down, he told the group -- but he told them in person. In the meantime, the group is waiting to see what the warning brings.
Around noon, as protesters gathered in support of the structures inside their campsite, public information officer Matt Murray became the first Denver Police representative to visit. Although he chose not to address the group's worries about a possible eviction today, he confirmed plans for a Monday meeting planned between Occupy Denver and White. Murray encouraged everyone present to attend, but later clarified that the meeting can only accommodate ten representatives from the occupation.
After Murray left, group discussion led to one issue being added to the slate of tonight's 7 p.m. general assembly: whether to decline White's offer to meet with the group after all. However, that decision would not be necessary. After protesters demanded to speak to White instead of Murray, both men visited the site together half an hour later.
White appeared collected and respectful of the group's customs. He used the people's mike to deliver a message that had clearly been decided upon before his arrival: "We have to make sure everyone, not just Occupy Denver, gets their constitutional rights protected," White told the crowd. "We have a problem with the encumbrances. They are going to have to come down. I'm asking you to take them down."
At this point, several protesters shouted a refusal to do so, and White moved on to discuss the Monday meeting, though he periodically reiterated that the city plans to remove all encumbrances from the park. White also noted his wish to deliver all of the news in person, to be "forthright and transparent" and to open communication between the police and the protest.
When asked about the structures' status as a potential venue for symbolic speech, White declined to discuss the constitutional implications of the issue. When protester Tim Holland asked the police chief why he allowed tents for the occupation in his former post in Louisville but not in Denver, White remarked only that the two are "different scenarios, different challenges and different cities." Asked to define an encumbrance, he deferred to the notice given out yesterday. Next came a question from protester Dwayne Hudson: Did the definition of encumbrance include the sleeping bag he uses nightly? White said, "If it's covering the sidewalk, it's a problem. That's not going to change."
Until today, many of the protesters labored under the belief that property did not become an encumbrance until it obstructed the sidewalk to the point that fewer than five feet of open space remained, but White silenced that idea. When asked what the city ordinance did not include (protester Al Nesby joked about a "piece of hair falling from my head"), White asked that the protesters "be practical and use common sense."
At this point, he terminated the meeting with a warning that protesters "please be careful." It currently remains unclear when the city will enforce its no-encumbrances rule and remove them from the area.
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More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: Will city's new order mean more arrests today?"