37 Arrested at Occupy Austin
City rule change leads to nonviolent clash with occupiers
By Richard Whittaker, 2:32PM, Sun. Oct. 30, 2011
OPEN IMAGE GALLERY
In the biggest (but still peaceful) clash between Austin Police Department and Occupy Austin, 37 people were arrested in the small hours of this morning. Now the role of City Manager Marc Ott in setting those arrests in motion, and the decision to deploy APD forces on one of Downtown's busiest nights of the year, is likely to come under scrutiny.
The trigger appears to be a change in city rules about the tables. This week, in a seeming attempt to prevent the occupation from becoming an encampment, the protestors were told to remove all food tables between 10pm and 6am. The occupiers and city management had already come to an understanding about powerwashing schedules (the first cause of some arrests) but this new rule changed the so-far peaceful relationship.
City Manager Marc Ott and Chief of Police Art Acevedo were on Sixth Street earlier in the evening, but both were observed at the two police actions: One at midnight, to remove the tables, and a second at 2am, to allow for a power washing. It seems that the midnight action and arrests changed the dynamic between the cops and Occupy Austin enough that the occupiers decided not to move for the cleanup crew, as they had on previous occasions.
In a statement, Occupy Austin spokesperson Jonathan Cronin said, "Chief Acevedo indicated that he wished to set himself and the APD apart from their colleagues in New York, Oakland and Atlanta that have precipitated clashes with those in the Occupy Movement simply exercising their First Amendment rights. Now, he has apparently changed his mind and decided that provoking peaceful protestors and providing inspiration for acts of civil disobedience is in the public’s best interests. We can only hope that this is an unfortunate miscommunication that will quickly be cleared up. We hope that all parties will patiently exercise restraint until this is clarified."
However, the real questions may start to surround Ott's role. It was Ott's office that came up with the rule change. It was seemingly Ott's staff that decided that this was the best use of a large contingent of APD forces on the Saturday before Halloween – traditionally one of Downtown Austin's busiest nights of the year. The timing of the power washing could become a particular point of contention: Rather than helping control the outflow from Sixth Street, or checking for drunk drivers, a handy number of APD's finest was riding shotgun on a cleaning crew.
Council seems to have been kept out of the loop on this, and it seems highly likely that Ott and Acevedo may face some stiff questions about operational procedures on Monday.