Heritage Park walled off after Occupy Olympia’s eviction

Yesterday the Occupy Olympia encampment, located on the shores of Capitol Lake and in the shadows of the state Capitol buildings, was cleared out.  As the Washington State Patrol cleared out the encampment, the Olympia Police Department cleared out the abandoned former Health Department building which had been occupied Thursday night and renamed the Rachel Corrie Community Center.  All occurred peacefully with no pepperspray or physical force by law enforcement.  I will post a few items about the events of the past couple days, beginning with this one:

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Heritage Park walled off after Occupy Olympia’s eviction

Debby Pattin of Olympia said Friday was a sad day but that the law enforcement action at the park “went remarkably peacefully,” and it was apparent that troopers had been trained in conflict resolution.

“They kept telling everybody that they weren’t going to hurt anybody.”

She said it’s a huge contrast to police crackdowns on other Occupy demonstrations, such as in Oakland, Calif., where police doused crowds with pepper spray.

Published December 16, 2011
MATT BATCHELDOR
The Olympian

About 30 state troopers in riot gear moved into Heritage Park on Friday morning to clear out Occupy Olympia, hours after campers defied a midnight deadline for the tent camp to leave. A short time later, a group of people who had holed up in an abandoned building on Fourth Avenue left peacefully.

There were no arrests as the camp was cleared. One man was cited for trespassing at the old Thurston County Department of Health building, at 529 Fourth Ave. W., but was released, according to the Olympia Police Department.

State troopers moved to evict the camp, which had been in place about two months, after the Department of Enterprise Services asked campers Nov. 11 to leave voluntarily, citing health and safety concerns. Campers refused to leave by 12:01 a.m. Friday, instead holding a dance party with loud music that drew several dozen people into the wee hours.

The Washington State Patrol responded to the park at about 7:20 a.m. and told campers via a loudspeaker to leave, said Sgt. J.J. Gundermann, a spokesman.

“When we bring the troops in to clear it out, we’re going to clear everybody out,” he said.

About 9 a.m., authorities did just that. About 30 troopers walked side by side, creating a line that slowly advanced on the camp.

Troopers checked each tent for inhabitants. By then, only a few campers remained, peacefully retreating as the police advanced.

Meanwhile, a temporary fence was quickly erected around the camp, preventing anyone from entering. Crews began using heavy equipment to remove the remaining tents and heaps of belongings. Owners of seized items will be able to claim them from the state until Jan. 9.

Steve Valandra, spokesman for the Department of Enterprise Services, said he didn’t know how long the park will be fenced off. The department will assess the grounds; some grass will have to be reseeded, and debris cleared.

“We found syringes, crack pipes … we want to make sure we go through it thoroughly and restore the turf a bit,” he said.

Valandra said the demonstration had cost his department about $5,300, but that the number will rise.

People involved with Occupy Olympia, which has no leaders or spokesman, expressed sadness and frustration that their community was destroyed and that homeless people in the camp had nowhere to go.

“It’s appalling, in my opinion,” said Valerie Krull of Olympia. “It’s the way our political system works.”

While troopers were clearing the camp, the Olympia Police Department responded to the old Thurston County Board of Health building across the street, where campers had occupied the vacant building.

Twenty to 30 people took over the building about 1 a.m. Friday, wanting to turn it into a community center, said Occupy Olympia participant Alicia Hilgers.

“We’re trying to use a space that hasn’t been used,” she said, “and empower ourselves to help others to meet the needs of the community.”

Hilgers said the building was unlocked, and all they had to do to get in was remove a chain on the door. The building has electricity, she said.

The effort was short-lived. After a brief standoff, a SWAT team surrounded the building, and the occupants gave themselves up without incident.

“We decided to move out because we were told that we might be charged with felonies,” said Sara Hansen.

City Manager Steve Hall said the building was “in terrible shape,” littered with needles, feces and broken glass.

Occupy Olympia began Oct. 15 in Sylvester Park, but most campers agreed a day later to move to Heritage Park because it has restrooms and the grass is hardier. The camp formed in solidarity with the original Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City, which began in September and has sparked similar demonstrations worldwide. The movement highlights the growing income disparity between the richest 1 percent and the other 99 percent.

Debby Pattin of Olympia said Friday was a sad day but that the law enforcement action at the park “went remarkably peacefully,” and it was apparent that troopers had been trained in conflict resolution.

“They kept telling everybody that they weren’t going to hurt anybody.”

She said it’s a huge contrast to police crackdowns on other Occupy demonstrations, such as in Oakland, Calif., where police doused crowds with pepper spray.

Campers have vowed to continue demonstrating and plan to have general assembly meetings at 1 p.m. each Sunday in the Rotunda of the Legislative Building.

Meanwhile, faith leaders scrambled to find or add beds at shelters to accommodate displaced campers. At one time, the camp was estimated to have about 60 homeless members.

“We were caught a little off-guard, thought we’d have a little more notice,” said Amy Walters, pastor of First Christian Church in Olympia. “You know, the shelters are full. You can’t just wag a finger and make a shelter open.”

The church, along with Interfaith Works, is working to add more shelters. As of Thursday, there were a few spots available.

Jill Severn, chairwoman of the Panza board that oversees the Camp Quixote camp for the homeless, said St. Michael Catholic Church would try to open more space at its men’s shelter, and that there is overflow space at the Salvation Army.

“There is a capacity problem,” she said.

Staff writer Jeremy Pawloski contributed to this report.
Read more: http://www.theolympian.com/2011/12/16/v-print/1915856/occupy-olympia-told-to-vacate.html#ixzz1goIk37Fx

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