Occupy Denver: Will city's new order mean more arrests today?
After thirteen arrests on Monday following weeks in which no one was jailed, Occupy Denver spent last night strengthening its small fort city at Civic Center Park and preparing for a second wave of busts. Yesterday, Public Works officials served the group with a second official notice to remove all encumbrances, this time with a deadline of 10 a.m. today. The last time the group received a warning notice, it was followed by eviction.
The notice, which reached the camp yesterday around 3 p.m., asks protesters to remove all personal property from the area immediately or risk the same items being "subject to removal by the City of Denver."
"City crews delivered notices to those around Civic Center Park alerting them that it is unlawful to encumber the public right-of-way," says Christine Downs, marketing and communications director for Public Works. "Under D.R.M.C. section 49-246, 'the Manager of Public Works or the manager's designee is authorized to remove or order the removal of any article, vehicle, or things whatsoever encumbering any street alley, sidewalk, parkway, or other public place.'"
The group's recent notice.
Courtesy of Occupy Denver
But the warning is not a new one for Occupy Denver: The most recent notice is the second in a series related to encumbrances, defined as anything that blocks the sidewalks in front of the park. It comes only a week after the group's attempt to guarantee a restraining order against this and three other city ordinances failed in federal court.
Although the group's last warning was delivered by police, the decision is "not a police action," says Denver Police Department public information officer Matt Murray. Officers will, however, assist if needed. Given the planned response from Occupy Denver, that chance is likely.
"We will be available if they need us," Murray says. "Just like anybody. If the firemen needed us anywhere, we would go. The goal is that these folks protect their property and get it where it belongs. All I can do is enforce the law when we need to. We're not the enemy."
Last night's 7 p.m. general assembly served as a rallying of forces as Occupy protesters debated and voted on how to respond to attempts to remove their property from the area. Since the last large-scale local altercation with police on November 12, protesters have turned sleeping bag rolls into a substantial series of small forts in order to escape the cold and create community morale. Although the last notice ended with the Thunderdome vacating a permanent spot at the park, the fort-like areas that have since risen up are larger than their November predecessors.
The Thunderdome as seen in a previous iteration of the Occupy Denver campsite.
Although the action is not required (or supported unanimously), a generous handful of protesters is prepared to face arrest later today when city officials approach the park to remove encumbrances. The action is scheduled for anywhere between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
"With the way we have our fort city, it's much more intense this time around," says protester Jason Ball, a member of the 24/7 committee and the Family of Love. The offshoot group occupies the sidewalk across Broadway from the occupation -- inside a roomy and complex fort. "Everyone is trying to make them as difficult to tear down as possible, and we are all aware of the possibility of arrest. Many of us are willing to take that risk in order to protect our homes. These are our homes."
Following last night's G.A., protesters took donations of wood, nails and other construction items for use in fortifying the movement's small structures. Throughout the night, they built up the area, and though nothing was permanently attached to public property, the goal was to make today's attempts to rid the area of encumbrances as difficult as possible.
"We've been trying to have an open relationship with city officials and the police, but this feels like a huge step backwards," Ball says of the group's attitude toward today's situation. "They've now completely missed any concept of trust."
Yesterday also included a second notification, this time via Twitter, in which the DPD announced that the new Chief of Police, Robert White, has agreed to meet with the group on December 19. Although the plans for the meeting are open -- "Whatever they want to talk about," Murray says -- the meeting might be complicated by today's events.
"They reached out to us the first time after his swearing in, and he was adamant that he wanted to meet and start a dialogue," Murray says. "He talked to me a lot today about his relationship with Occupy Lousiville. Knowing what I already know, I would suspect that he wants to maintain a relationship.
In past weeks, a handful of protesters have also met consistently with members of Mayor Michael Hancock's staff, whom they also approached immediately after receiving the notice yesterday afternoon. The stance remains clear: The city will enforce the ordinance today.
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: Thirteen arrests in Loveland Walmart protest, at least two still jailed."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.