Let's recap: By this point, It has been firmly established that Mayor Michael Hancock, the Denver Police Department, Governor John Hickenlooper and the Colorado State Patrol have no intention of allowing Occupy Denver to use tents. Such encampments have been referred to as a "shantytown" by police, even though tents might have prevented five hospitalizations. One possible solution, then, is an igloo -- or at least that's what Stephen Liddane thought until he was arrested inside of one.
After the season's first snow sent a handful of occupiers to Denver Health, the group gathered to brainstorm options for how to successfully make it through the weather. Ideas consistently returned to the necessity of tents, which have incited police action on three separate occasions, as the police enforce rules against structures being erected on city and state property. The first, when all of the group's original tents were removed, resulted in 24 arrests, followed by 26 the next day when protesters attempted to protect the tented Thunderdome. Including four protesters arrested when police raided a squat, one arrested in last Saturday's anti-police brutality march and the arrest of homeless veteran Billy Reno (again for a tent), the total stood at 56.
But somewhere between late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, Liddane became number 57. "At first, we thought it would be funny if I went into the igloo and occupied it. But then it became an issue where I knew I was going to be arrested for taking a stand," the 21-year-old Liddane says of his decision. He admits he was too worried or his health to spent the night at Civic Center Park during Tuesday night's snow: Instead, he slept under a bridge. "At the very least, it was warm inside by the time they came to shine their lights on me, and you can't say that for the rest of the park. They told me to get out."
Liddane's answer: "Nah, I'm good." The first of two igloos was built earlier in the day by a group whose members envisioned it as a way to stay warm during another day of snow. They spent three hours with shovels packing the snow tight and then removing the inside so a total of six people could squeeze (very) tightly into the approximately four-foot-tall snow dome.
When the police came to take down Billy Reno's tent and arrest its owner, they expressed concern over the main igloo's presence, describing it as a structure. But they didn't remove it -- then. "The cops left it up for several hours and seemed fine with it for a while," says occupier Tony Song, a member of the team that built the igloo.
Liddane spent the police's ten-minute warning in the igloo's warmth while he waited for cops to extract him. "Then they came down with shovels and started to tear it down while I was inside," Liddane says. "When they got down to me, they pulled me out and arrested me for violating the park's curfew and conducting unlawful activity on the property. To be honest, I sleep outside all the time, so jail was a hotel in comparison.
"At least it was warm there."
With Lidanne gone, a group of police officers turned to a small bulldozer and an increase in shovels to eradicate the igloo. It turned out to be a fairly difficult task. "It must have been our good construction, because it didn't come down easily once they came in to bulldoze it," Song says.
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In a pointed statement issued on the group's website, Occupy Denver supporters write that, "Eyewitness reports state that at approximately 1:30 a.m., at least 10 Denver Police Department officers used shovels, a battering ram and heavy machinery to destroy the igloo in Civic Center Park. Occupy Denver continues to be appalled at the excessive and wasteful expenditure of tax dollars put to the effort to stifle First Amendment rights by repeatedly destroying the infrastructure and symbols of the Occupy Denver protest."
The arrest, sparked because Liddane remained on park property after its 11 p.m. close, provides yet another indication of the police's interpretation of what constitutes a structure. Along with tents, the definition has also included a cardboard enclosure in addition to the igloo. During Liddane's arraignment the following morning, he was the first occupier to plead guilty to any charge, but he plans to withdraw the plea in order to reverse it.
"I didn't have a lawyer present, so when I get one, we're going to change my plea," he says. "What's so terrible about some people sleeping in tents in a park? We need somewhere to live and stay warm and change the world. You have nice warm houses to go home to, so let us have one measly sort of warm tent."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: Police arrest homeless vet Billy Reno for raising a tent."