Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Occupy odds and ends: Safe initiative, smelly discovery

Some odds and ends from the Occupy Charlotte protests after police removed tents from the camp, which had stood since last fall:

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe and Capt. Jeff Estes both called the initiative a success. No officers or protesters were injured and there were no reports of use of force. Officers were professional and didn't respond as protesters insulted them.
The Fire Department's hazardous materials team was called out to the Occupy Charlotte site Tuesday, after police discovered that protesters were apparently using a storm drain as a bathroom. 

According to sources, the storm drain on the lawn of old City Hall empties into Little Sugar Creek. City officials were trying to figure out the most effective and environmentally friendly way to clean up the mess. It's unclear if police will be able to charge anyone with a crime. 

In October, a few weeks after the start of the Occupy Charlotte movement, organizers told city officials they'd like to set up portable bathrooms for people who have joined the movement, even appealing to Mayor Anthony Foxx for help. 

But city officials said they're not required to allow restroom facilities or other "semi-permanent" structures to be put on city property. It was unclear, until Monday when police broke up the camp, if the Occupiers had found a solution.

Photo: WCNC.com

Occupiers talked extensively with members of the media on Sunday, after they were given their first warning about having to remove tents from the lawn of old City Hall. But there were some things organizers chose to keep secret, even going off to another part of the camp to have private discussions.
One of those secrets was apparently a codeword for when officers arrived. When officers stormed out of police headquarters around 2:45 p.m. Monday, several occupiers yelled "Flamingo" and began running toward tents.
Some of the protest chants:
  • "Arrest us, we'll multiply. Occupy will never die."
  • "Show me what a police state looks like. This is what a police state looks like."
  • "Free speech is not a crime. Occupy will never die."
  • "We are the 99%"
As officers descended on the Occupy Charlotte camp, local TV stations chronicled nearly every move.

But they weren't the only ones recording. At least two police officers were assigned to tape the interactions with protesters. And protesters made their own recordings. Some used camera phones, another person used an iPad to record the arrests.

Protesters have also been been recording on-air interviews with the media, saying they wanted to have the ability to correct any misinformation. Before an interview, the person going on camera would often yell "I need a spotter." It's unclear where the videos were filed or if they were ever used.

Video recordings have made national news in other Occupy protests. In October, Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York claimed police tricked them, saying officers told protesters they could go onto the Brooklyn Bridge, then arresting hundreds. New York police later released a video showing an officer with a megaphone, warning protesters not to walk on the bridge.
Occupy Charlotte protesters had been preparing for a showdown with police for days. On Sunday, they had a group discussion about passive resistance and nonviolent protest.

But organizers stressed that the decision about whether to get arrested or not was a personal choice by each individual protester.

"You have to be practical with people's safety, with people's lives," said James Lee Walker II, who had been involved in the Occupy Charlotte protest since October. Like the majority of protesters, he wasn't arrested on Monday.
At one point near the end of Monday's police initiative, protesters crossed Trade Street where Chief Monroe and two dozen police officers watched the events unfold.

"Since the police see fit to occupy the people's campground, why don't we go over there and show them some love?" said Michael Zytkow.

When they got there, they did the hokey pokey. (They changed the last line to "You do the hokey pokey and you kiss your rights goodbye.") At one point, one man did the dance move "The worm."

-- Cleve R. Wootson Jr.